Mini has confirmed its return to top-line rallying by officially unveiling a preview of its Countryman WRC at the Paris motor show - and naming Briton Kris Meeke as one of its drivers.
Developed by Prodrive, the Banbury-based operation previously responsible for Subaru’s world rallying success, the Countryman WRC is built to rallying’s new 2011 regs.
These downsize the engines to 1.6-litre turbocharged units (the Mini’s is built by BMW Motorsport in Munich), and introduce technical restrictions designed to cut the costs for both manufacturers and privateers.
Mini will contest six of the 13 rounds in the 2011 WRC season, before committing to a full campaign in 2012. Prodrive will also make customer cars available to private teams; in total the firm expects to build 100 Mini WRCs over the next four years.
Northern Irishman Meeke joins Mini’s campaign after a frustrating defence of his Intercontinental Rally Challenge title with Peugeot. He’s long been regarded as one of the brightest young stars in the sport and has also conducted testing for Citroen (Xsara WRC and C4 WRC) in recent years.
Mini is likely to have at least one other regular driver; double world champion Marcus Gronholm is understood to be considering an offer from the team.