Mike Stevens | Mar 21, 2011

With the unveiling last year of MINI's new high-riding Countryman and its 4WD layout came speculation that the BMW-owned brand would make a return to the world rally stage.

It wasn't long before spy photos and leaks began to paint a picture of the company's plans, and within just a few months, MINI had announced its plan to make a run for the World Rally Championship.

In 2011, MINI and specialist tuner Prodrive will enter the MINI John Cooper Works WRC car in seven of the WRC 13 events - including Rally Australia in September - ahead of a full-blown assault in 2012.

“Experience is a very important factor in motorsport. For that reason it is essential we learn as much as possible within a very short time, in order to make up ground on our rivals," BMW Board Member Ian Robertson said.

"The new regulations mean the gap to the top is smaller than it would have been at another time. We want to annoy the opposition as soon as possible.”

Powered by a 1.6 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (output has yet to be revealed), the Countryman-based MINI JCW WRC will be piloted by Britain's Kris Meeke and Ireland's Paul Nagly, along with Spain's Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio.

“MINI can look back on a successful tradition in rallying/ Even up to the present day, there is a core group within the MINI community for which MINI and motorsport just belong together,” Dr Wolfgang Armbrecht, Senior Vice President Brand Management MINI said.

"The WRC provides an excellent communications platform for the MINI Countryman, upon which the MINI John Cooper Works WRC is based.”

Prodrive says it will also be supplying cars to private rally teams, including the Brazil World Rally Team, which will launch a MINI John Cooper Works S2000 at Rally Portugal this week.

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