The famous MINI name is to return to the World Rally Championship for the 2011 season after BMW confirmed a multi-year comeback into the sport.
The MINI Countryman WRC is being developed by Prodrive, who were the driving force behind Subaru's rallying success, and will take part in selected rounds of the 2011 season ahead of a full-time return in 2012.
In line with the new regulations being brought into play in the WRC next season, the MINI Countryman WRC will be fitted with a 1.6-litre turbo charged engine from BMW Motorsport and will comply fully with the new S2000 rules.
“I am delighted MINI will be represented on one of the most popular stages in international motorsport,” Ian Robertson from BMW's board of management said. “The success enjoyed on the rally circuit has made a vital contribution to the image of the brand. MINI customers have always shown great interest in motorsport.
“I am convinced we will add a few more chapters to our success story in rallying. The MINI Countryman provides an excellent basis, from which to create a competitive racing car for the world championship. In Prodrive, we have a strong and experienced partner. We will work hard together over the coming months to ensure we get the project on track right from the word go.”
The new car will also be made available to customer teams and is due to start testing this autumn ahead of its debut next year. Development has been ongoing on the project since early 2009, with official confirmation of the partnership having been expected for some time.
“This is a very exciting new motorsport programme,” Prodrive chairman David Richards said. “During the 1960s MINI captured the imagination of the world when the tiny car took on the might of V8 powered Fords and won what was then one of the toughest motorsport events, the 4000km Monte Carlo rally.
“I believe our new MINI will become a firm favourite of the latest generation of rally fans, just as it is adored by its millions of owners across the world. We already have a significant number of confirmed customer orders for the new MINI rally car with the first deliveries scheduled for the start of the 2011 season.”
The original MINI Cooper S is regarded as one of the most iconic cars of all time, with Paddy Hopkirk, Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen all securing victory on the Monte Carlo Rally using the Cooper.
No drivers for the new programme have yet been revealed