For more than a decade they dominated rallying and racing at the highest level. The smallest cars in motorsport were truly giant killers in the hands of racing legends like Paddy Hopkirk, Pat Moss and the original "flying Finns": Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen.

The Mini wrote itself into motorsport history with victories at Monte Carlo, in Finland, and even at Bathurst in Australia.

Now the mighty Mini is back at the forefront of world rallying, making its official return as a factory team at the fast and spectacular Rally Finland.

In the hands of Irish driver Kris Meeke and Spaniard Dani Sordo - both well-versed in the heat of WRC rally action - the cars ran inside the top 10 throughout the rally until Meeke punctured on the 17th competitive stage.


More seriously, both cars jammed their radiators with soil on a hard landing on the following stage and had to be withdrawn from the event, Meeke going out on the 19th stage and Sordo on the 20th.

The team is using 2011 as a development season, but Meeke has already posted a string of fastest stage times and Sordo has scored points in the driver's championship with a sixth place at Rally Italy.

Mini intends to contest remaining rounds of this year's championship to gather valuable information and tune the handling and performance of the new cars. The team will then launch an assault on the 2012 championship, joining the two factory teams that currently dominate the sport: Citroen and Ford.

Developing the new cars has taken two years. They are of course quite different from their predecessors, which featured a 1275cc engine and four-speed transmission in a bodyshell that weighed less than 1000kg.

With a rally crew of two on board, the cabin of the original became filled with seats, footrests, fire extinguishers, roll cage tubes, two-way radios, trip meters and other paraphernalia, making the interior cramped.

For the marathon-length events of the day, three or four spotlights would be fitted to the front bumper, with another sometimes mounted on a swivel bracket on the roof.

The 1275cc engine would rev to a heady 7500rpm, producing around 70kW.

The new Mini WRC weighs 1200kg. It features four-wheel drive and a 231kW 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that revs to 8500rpm and drives through a six-speed sequential gearbox to give a 0-100 acceleration time of "less than five seconds".

The original Mini was 2.4m long; the Mini WRC is 4.1m long. Inside, there is more room than in the 1964 version but the car has been stripped of everything except the essentials, leaving just racing seats, a roll cage, steering wheel, gearshift and instruments. Carbon-fibre, computers and wiring abound and the accelerator, brakes and clutch pedals are mounted on the floorpan.

Today's factory Mini rally operation is headed by David Richards, whose company Prodrive ran Subaru at the same level and won multiple world championship titles for the Japanese manufacturer before the global recession forced their withdrawal from the sport.

Richards knows what it takes to win. Before establishing Prodrive, he navigated for Finnish star Ari Vatanen, now a member of the European Parliament.