In addition to launching a road-going version of the new 2011 MINI Countryman, the automaker and its parent firm, BMW AG, have announced that the latest addition to the family will spawn a special variant built to compete in the FIA's World Rally Championship starting in 2011. Based on the production vehicle, the MINI Countryman WRC will comply with the FIA's new Super2000 rules. Power for this diminutive all-wheel drive SUV will be provided by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine currently being developed by BMW Motorsport.

The factory MINI Countryman WRC effort will be run by Prodrive, the well-established and seriously successful motorsports operation headed by Dave Richards. Currently head of Aston Martin Racing and former principal in Benneton and BAR F1 efforts, Richards' won his own WRC title as a co-driver in 1981. In addition to notching five British Touring Car Championship crowns, Prodrive also guided the Subaru World Rally Team to six WRC manufacturer titles and helped Colin McRae and Richard Burns win individual driver's championships before the automaker pulled out of the series at the end of 2008.

Richards says the master plan will have MINI actively challenging for the WRC title within three years. "I believe our new MINI will become a firm favorite of the latest generation of rally fans, just as it is adored by its millions of owners across the world. We already have a significant number of confirmed customer orders for the new MINI rally car with the first deliveries scheduled for the start of the 2011 season." So far, Prodrive has not named any drivers for the factory effort nor confirmed exactly how many events it plans to contest next year in preparation for opening its formal challenge for the WRC championship in 2012.

Although notching a WRC title represents its most formidable challenge in this discipline, MINI is definitely no stranger to international rallying success. The marque's first win came in 1959 when British driver Pat Moss took a MINI 850 to victory at the MINI Miglia National Rally. But the tiny terror really came into its own at the fabled Monte Carlo Rally. In 1964, 1965 and 1967, the MINI Cooper S swept to overall wins, driven by Irishman Paddy Hopkirk and Finns Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen, respectively.

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