The classic Mini Cooper was a legendary rally car in the 1960s, and has been campaigned by many teams at almost every level of the sport. Now, the official factory effort to take the World Rally Championship is back under BMW's ownership, with the 2011 MINI Countryman the platform of choice. Starting next year, MINI will contest a limited set of races before going full-time in 2012.

MINI's return to WRC is enabled by two main factors: the addition of the ALL4 all-wheel drive system with the new Countryman and the shift by the WRC to Super2000 rules for the 2011 season. While the Countryman could be converted to an all-wheel drive layout for WRC purposes only (the Fiesta RS WRC to be campaigned by Ken Block next year is a prime example of this) it better suits MINI's marketing for the Countryman, helping to pitch the vehicle as a rally-worthy production car, a sure aid to sales in Europe, and, among the hardcore, here in the U.S. as well.

The shift to Super2000 rules is the more important factor, however. Stipulating a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine displacement, the new rules cut the current engines back from 2.0-liters while making a natural fit with the MINI's 1.6-liter production engine. Perhaps even more importantly, the shift to Super2000 rules means teams will face about 25 percent less in the way of costs each season. Cost was the motivating factor in driving MINI parent BMW out of Formula 1, so the reduced cost paired with the real-world relevance to the actual production MINI Countryman could be the ultimate factors justifying the project within the boardroom.

Best of all for MINI fans, the factory team will be working with Prodrive, the racing program company behind Aston Martin Racing and formerly with the world-championship winning Subaru World Rally Team.

Prodrive has been at work developing the racing version of the MINI Countryman since 2009, and Prodrive chairman David Richards thinks the MINI will be a contender as well as a fan favorite. "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 4000-km Monte Carlo rally. I believe our new MINI will become a firm favorite 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," said Richards.

[MINI, Prodrive]