Mini's chances of success on next year's Dakar Rally appear to have taken a step forward with speculation that Volkswagen will not contest the South American marathon in a private capacity.
The Race Touareg has won the last three rallies and had been expected to run in the 2012 event in the hands of a private team while retaining a similar level of technical expertise from the Hannover-based firm. But now it appears the appetite for a potential fourth win for the Touareg is diminishing in Germany as the company's World Rally Championship effort comes on line.
Nasser Al-Attiyah, who won Dakar this year and will drive for VW in the WRC in 2013, admitted the chances of him competing next January looked doubtful.
"It doesn't look so possible now," he said. "I won't go there without my engineer and the same team. This is not sensible and I don't think we will be able to do it.
"It's a great shame, I really wanted to defend my title."
A source close to VW said: "I think the realisation is coming that the WRC is an enormous programme and competing on the Dakar - even as a private team with a lot of factory support - would take a lot of time away from the WRC effort."
This will be good news for Stephane Peterhansel and the other X-Raid team drivers, who have come closest to challenging VW over the past two years.
X-Raid team boss Sven Quandt was circumspect about the potential for VW not competing. He told AUTOSPORT earlier this year: "I will only believe this when I see them competing."
Quandt added that he hoped the Touareg would be in Buenos Aires for the start.
"It makes it more of a challenge for us to have VW there," he said. "The challenge pushes you and it can make the victory sweeter.
"To win Dakar you need minimum 30 per cent luck and we haven't had that yet. If we get it next year, we can win. In 2010, we were easily faster than them, but we had bad luck. This year they were undoubtedly faster. Next year, we will see."
Mini and X-Raid will run four Countryman-based Dakar cars on next year's event.