It’s been one of the worst kept secrets of the year, but today Mini and Prodrive have confirmed that they are to join together compete in a selected 2011 WRC programme before a full 2012 campaign.

Mini haven’t been seen in top level rallying since the 1960s when the likes of Paddy Hopkirk drove the tiny car to the stop step of the podium on numerous occasions.  Mini will be using their new Countryman car powered by a 1.6L BMW turbocharged engine.

Ian Robertson, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, responsible for Sales and Marketing, said: “I am delighted Mini will be represented on one of the most popular stages in international motorsport. The success enjoyed on the rally circuit has made a vital contribution to the image of the brand. Mini customers have always shown great interest in motorsport.”

Mini will be using their new Countryman in WRC 2011

Prodrive chairman David Richards added: “This is a very exciting new motorsport programme. During the 1960s Mini captured the imagination of the world when the tiny car took on the might of V8-powered Fords and won what was then one of the toughest motorsport events, the 4,000km Monte Carlo rally.

“I believe our new Mini will become a firm favourite 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.”

The news of a new large manufacturer will be welcome for the WRC which has struggled in recent years to maintain the profile it held at turn of the century.  It will be interesting to see which drivers become attached to the project, though with Prodrive involved it is likely only the highest calibre of drivers will be considered.