LONDON // The Mini will return to the World Rally Championship (WRC) next season with the target of winning the title within three years, David Richards, the Prodrive chief, said yesterday. BMW, the brand's owners, said in a statement that the Mini would compete in selected events in 2011 before a full return from 2012. The Mini Cooper S became an iconic car in rallying in the 1960s, winning the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally on three occasions in 1964, 1965 and 1967, as well as the European Championship in 1965. "The target is clearly to be competitive from the outset and we have set a target with BMW and Mini of the world title within the next three years," Richards told Reuters in a telephone interview. "We [Prodrive] have got six world titles to our credit already so we've been there before and know what it takes to do it. We are setting about that task very meticulously." British-based Prodrive ran Subaru's world championship-winning team until the Japanese manufacturer pulled out at the end of 2008 and have been working on a Mini Countryman WRC for months. Monte Carlo is not on next year's world championship calendar, instead forming part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, and is not certain for 2012 either. However, Richards said that event was not fundamental to Mini's return, despite the enduring image of Northern Ireland's Paddy Hopkirk battling through snow and ice to win in 1964. "We are focused on the world championship and if Monte Carlo is on it, we'll be there," Richards said. "If it's not, then we are unlikely to be there. "We expect to do half the championship next year," he added, saying that the car would not be ready for FIA approval before the start of the season anyway. With Subaru, Richards turned the late Colin McRae and Richard Burns into British world champions - as well as winning three constructors' titles in 1995, 1996 and 1997 - and would like to bring on another young Briton to follow in their footsteps. "Obviously our priority is to get the best drivers, whatever nationality. But I have always tried if possible to have one British driver in the team," he said. Matthew Wilson, the son of the Ford team chief Malcolm, is Britain's sole full-time driver at the top level, but has yet to become a winner in a series dominated by Citroen and Sebastien Loeb, the six-time world champion. Northern Ireland's Kris Meeke, McRae's former protege, is the reigning Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion and could be a prime candidate. "There are a few candidates and maybe we will go for a younger driver, in the way we did with Colin and Richard," said Richards. The former Benetton and BAR Formula One team principal said Prodrive was taking a new approach to the Mini project. "We took what's now been 18 months out, where we've actually gone back to basics," he said. "We've taken all the data we've accumulated over the past 20 years, analysed everything and gone into a lot of detail in design, manufacturing and purchasing. "It is a radical new way we have gone about this project and I am very confident it will reap its rewards as well." * Reuters
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