What an unusual press conference for Mini today in Geneva. Instead of boring us all into submission with sales results and projections, Mini invited Rauno Aaltonen, aka the Flying Finn, to talk with Dr. Kay Segler, senior vice president of Mini brand management.



In addition to his WRC efforts in the 1970s, Aaltonen drove a Mini Cooper S to victory at Monte Carlo in 1967. He, of course, compared the new 2009 Mini John Cooper Works and John Cooper Works Clubman to the old car (also present), noting that today's JCW is the "direct heir" to the car he drove in '67.



Notably, both Aaltonen and Segler spoke only in German, despite the fact that this is still supposed to be a British brand (at least in name), and despite the fact that French is most commonly spoken in Geneva.



After the press conference, we talked with Andrew Cutler, public relations director for Mini USA, and learned that because John Cooper Works is now officially a division of Mini, this latest batch of JCW upgrades will be sold only as unique factory models.

In other words, you can't piece together these upgrades for an existing Mini via the accessories catalog. For a detailed explanation on the upgrades, read our full article on the Mini John Cooper Works cars.

The JCW Cooper S hatchback in the booth has Recaro seats, which will be optional in Europe. Unfortunately, Cutler told us the Recaros won't be offered in the U.S. for cost reasons. This is a shame, because we sat in the driver seat, and it's a huge upgrade over the standard Mini seat -- it puts you in a much better position to drive the car and stay snug through corners.



Another small disappointment is the continued use of run-flat tires, even on the JCW Clubman, which has space for a temporary spare.



We also got a look at the Mini Challenge car in the booth, which effectively provided a proving ground for the factory John Cooper Works modifications.





Although European orders will start March 20, we'll have to wait until late summer. --Erin Riches, Senior Editor