The fifth round of the World Rally Championship in Sardinia will see the return of the Mini brand to the sport they dominated in the 1960s.
The car, developed by Prodrive, will compete at six events on the 2011 calendar before racing a full championship from next year onwards.
Kris Meeke will partner Spaniard Dani Sordo in the team and the Dungannon-born driver told Press Association Sport he believes the experience gleaned from the six races this season will be invaluable.
“We will learn a lot this weekend and learn a lot at every rally this year, we hope to be fighting at the front next season but we don’t know how far away we are,” he said.
“The only factor in determining how fast your car is to compare it to the opposition, we will know then where we are strong and which areas we need to work on.”
Meeke refuses to set any targets for Sardinia, with the focus being on performance rather than results.
“We are just looking to get out there and have a clean rally and see where we are in terms of our rivals,” he said.
“We have to learn as much as possible and are not setting ourselves specific targets other than trying to make the car competitive on every surface.”
Meeke, 31, has plenty of experience in rallying but would have been forgiven for thinking his chances to be involved in the WRC were dwindling before he signed for Mini last September.
“You never know what is in the future so you don't know what opportunities you will get, but when they arrive you have to make the most of it,” he added.
“So here we are at our first rally but we have a long way to go and we will have to see what happens.
“It is a nice story with the history of Mini in the past and the brand is so popular. We are two drivers driving two cars and when we are behind the wheel we drive to go as fast as possible and gets results no matter what car we are in, but it is nice to be involved with a prestigious brand like Mini.”
Defending champion Sebastien Loeb will be looking to maintain his lead at the top of the current drivers’ standings, although Finn Mikko Hirvonen is only two points behind with Loeb’s Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier a further two points back.