Genuinely nice vibe in Olbia, Sardinia, at the launch of VW’s World Rally Championship campaign, which will kick into life in testing this year before a Polo WRC turns up on the world’s stages at the start of 2013.

Rallying’s still a relatively small pond, and a friendlier one than F1, so even the team bosses from rival manufacturers turned up to hear the news from Dr Ulrich Hackenberg, VW’s board member in attendance.

“Our future goal is to be successful not only on sand,” he said, in a clear reference to three Dakar wins on the bounce. “We need to learn, as a team, about this new discipline of sport,” he added. “And we do not expect our rivals will halt their development to wait for us.”

On the whole, rivals are just glad of another (big) truck in the service parks, and a bit more clout when it comes to negotiating television contracts. But they’re also whispering furiously, and with some concern, about the amounts of money VW is prepared to spend to win.

“We believe we can be competitive in this series for no more than we were spending doing the Dakar,” said VW motorsport boss Kris Nissen. Which is fine, of course, unless they were spending the GDP of a modest European country on getting three diesel Touraegs across the desert.

Anyway, the real action in Sardinia starts tomorrow. And that means that everyone’s attention has already switched from the Polos, which won’t appear for another 20 months or so, to the return to top-flight motorsport of Mini, which happens in a few hours.

Pre-event shakedown went well for the team today, with respectable times from both Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo, and no mechanical dramas. In fact, they didn’t change the set-ups at all. “The shakedown stage wasn’t that representative,” said David Lapworth, technical boss of Mini’s rally partner Prodrive. “So we kept the same settings that we finalised at our last test, in Spain a couple of weeks ago.”

The two Minis, incidentally, will run with classic Monte Carlo Mini numbers (37 and 52, which were used on the winning cars in 1964 and 1965). But the men behind the wheel aren’t about to let the heritage get in the way of a good performance.

“Y’know, it’s a nice tribute to Paddy [Hopkirk] and Timo [Makinen]” said Meeke, with a wry smile, “but when we’re in the cars and driving, we don’t see the numbers.” Thank god for that. Mini’s marketing men would love the entire WRC to get bleary-eyed about the sixties. But nostalgia won’t matter a jot once the first stage times come through tomorrow.