Mini has finally confirmed this morning that it is planning to return to top-flight rallying next year, over four decades after the original Cooper’s giant-killing exploits on the stages of the world - including, famously, those of the Monte Carlo Rally.
The word on the street is that the firm has delayed this programme more than once (it admits that Prodrive first started work on the Countryman WRC at the start of last year) because the BMW board took its time over signing off the budget.
I sincerely hope that what finally tipped the bean-counters’ views towards a WRC campaign was the thought of winning at the top level of motorsport and not just the potential to ape the original Mini’s competition history. Because motorsport has no time for nostalgia. Witness Lotus struggling around at the back of the grid in F1 - or the fact that Williams hasn’t won a race in over 100 GPs now.
Indeed, look at how Subaru - and thus Prodrive - fell off the pace in world rallying in 2007 and 2008, blown into the weeds as Ford and Citroen got their collective heads around the World Rally Car regulations.
The WRC needs new manufacturers, and Mini will be welcomed; its arrival is a real shot in the arm for the series, and hopefully the rumours linking Volkswagen with a Polo-based campaign come true as well.
But I doubt Ford or Citroen will roll over and allow the new kid an easy win or three. See how Suzuki, Hyundai, Skoda and even Mitsubishi have all struggled at the top flight over the past decade. Mini will need patience and real commitment if it is to avoid a similar roasting.
Oh yes, one more thing: drivers. Mini should be bold and go for a mix of a former world champion - Marcus Gronholm’s available and willing to take on the sort of limited programme that’s been planned for 2011 - and a young gun. Kris Meeke, anyone?