Today Mini came within seven seconds of winning its first major international rally since the late 1960s.

On the Rally of France, Spanish driver Dani Sordo took his Countryman-based John Cooper Works to second place, just 6.3sec behind the Citroën DS3 of event winner Sébastien Ogier.

Sordo’s result is great news for the Mini team. Although the modern rally assault by the BMW-owned brand doesn't have the same giant-killing resonance of the original, the team is still in its development year and didn't expect to challenge for wins so soon.

Mini emergence is even better for the profile of the World Rally Championship. Since the withdrawal of Subaru and Suzuki in 2008 the WRC has been a two-horse race between Citroën and Ford, but now Mini has shown that a three-way fight could be on the cards next season, when the team embarks on a full programme of rallies.

Spaniard Sordo has always gone well on asphalt rallies such as this weekend’s Alsace-based event, but his drive was particularly impressive. Once reigning world champion Sébastien Loeb had retired with an engine problem, Ogier and Sordo staged a thrilling fight. Sordo led after the first day, and Ogier had to pull out all the stops to overhaul his rival.

The Mini’s consistent pace will be a huge fillip for David Richards’ Prodrive organisation, which builds and prepares the John Cooper Works WRCs.

Sordo seems like a reborn driver since joining Mini. He endured five confidence-bruising seasons as Loeb’s team-mate/whipping boy at Citroën, but is now showing signs of the talent that many WRC figures – including his former mentor Carlos Sainz – first noticed.

The next WRC event takes place on the super-smooth asphalt of Catalonia in Spain. Sordo is usually stunningly quick there, so what price a Mini win?