Mini has confirmed the existence of the Countryman World Rally Car for the first time - and that the Prodrive-built machine will run on selected rounds of next year's World Rally Championship before starting a full programme of events in 2012.
A statement, which came from Mini in Munich, Germany, ended months of speculation linking the BMW-owned company with a rally development project being run by British-based motorsport firm Prodrive.
As expected, the Mini Countryman WRC will run with a BMW-developed 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, with the first test expected in the autumn.
Factory Minis have not been seen at rallying's highest level since the car won the Monte Carlo 1,000 Lakes Rally and Acropolis Rally in 1967. That will all change next season, however, when the Banbury-built car takes to the stages.
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.
"I am convinced we will add a few more chapters to our success story in rallying. The Mini Countryman provides an excellent basis, from which to create a competitive racing car for the world championship. In Prodrive, we have a strong and experienced partner. We will work hard together over the coming months to ensure we get the project on track right from the word go."
Prodrive chairman David Richards added: "This is a very exciting new motorsport programme. 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."
No mention has been made of precisely when the car will start testing or competing, although the Rally d'Italia-Sardegna is widely tipped to be the launch event in May next season. As for drivers, Marcus Gronholm, Kris Meeke, P-G Andersson and Mads Ostberg are the names most regularly being linked to a deal.