Mini set for rally return

Mini is on the brink of announcing its return to frontline rallying, with a World Championship assault planned for 2011 based on the new four-wheel-drive Countryman.

Prodrive, which oversaw Subaru’s dominance of the sport in the late ’90s and early Noughties, is set to run the project having already completed a generic design process for the new World Rally Car regulations, which will come on stream from next season and feature a 1.6-litre turbo engine.

Although the Banbury-based preparation firm has refused to comment on speculation linking it to BMW-owned Mini, Prodrive chairman David Richards and technical director David Lapworth joined Mini personnel on a fact-finding mission to Rally Sweden, venue of the WRC opener, last month. It followed a visit to BMW’s headquarters in Munich.

Richards spoke late last year of an association with an “iconic brand”, adding: “We’re about to do something that will be a milestone in the WRC and for us as a company.”

Mini became synonymous with rallying in the ’60s after Paddy Hopkirk won the Monte Carlo Rally – the first of three outright victories for the marque – in a Cooper S in 1964.

Mini’s planned WRC entry would be a welcome boost for the series, which only has two competing manufacturers and has been hit by waning public interest in recent years. The firm is likely to field a minimum of four factory cars next year with several more available for customers. Richards has indicated a build of at least 40 cars by the start of 2011.

Visuals of the Mini WRC are due to appear this month with a test car running by June. It is understood Mini’s UK arm, which is putting up funding for the project, wants a Briton in the car, while a German driver is also being sought. Richard Rodgers