In this weekend’s WRC Rally Germany, Motorsport Italia, the organization that runs WRC Team Mini Portugal, is running two cars, but with one driver change. And Prodrive, the organization displaced by Mini Portugal as the official Mini factory team early in the year, is back, running as a privateer team, as it has in several rallies this season.
The latest shakeup began when Motorsport Italia fired its driver Armindo Araújo, replacing him with Chris Atkinson, a former Subaru works driver. Team manager Bruno di Pianto said, "The decision was not taken lightly and was made on purely sporting grounds. It was not a personal decision and everyone in the team wishes Armindo all the best for the future."
Then autosport.com reported that Araújo was suing the team. Araújo said that he was not allowed to test the car in Germany in mid-August, and was pressured to declare himself sick and to sit out Rally Germany.
He went on to say, "Then, on August 15, Motorsport Italia requested permission to use the license of WRC Team Mini Portugal - which belongs to my company - to be used with another driver until the end of the season. I declined, and the next day they informed me that I am no longer the driver without any justification or valid explanation.
"On August 17, I informed Motorsport Italia, Mini Germany and Mini Portugal that I have collected all necessary documentation about this matter and delivered it to my team of lawyers, who will take all necessary legal actions to protect my name and that of the project that I respect enormously. These facts have also been reported to the FIA.”
Araújo went on to say that his relationship with the team had been deteriorating for some time, and that drivers had been blamed for technical problems.
Meanwhile, the team’s two cars are running in Rally Germany with Atkinson and Paulo Nobre, who has run for the team all season, at the controls. The cars are running under the WRC Team Mini Portugal banner.
Prodrive has beaten WRC Team Mini Portugal in all rallies in which the two teams have gone head to head. The pattern is continuing on the first day of competition in Germany, as Prodrive’s Dani Sordo is sixth and Atkinson is ninth in the early stages. A report on the WRC website indicates that two drink bottles on Atkinson’s car came loose on one stage, forcing him to spend much of the time trying to keep them out from under the pedals. Meanwhile Citroen’s Sebastien Loeb, the eight-time WRC champion who is dominating competition once again this season, has the early lead.
You can check out progress over the course of the rally on www.wrc.com. We will report the final results here on Sunday.—Brian S. MorganBack to News