The UK won’t hold a round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) this season due to uncertainty over public funding. The Ypres Rally Belgium will instead be added to the calendar for the first time.
Rally GB organisers had been seeking government support to secure the event’s future and had been considering a move to Northern Ireland. Event bosses were in talks with government and tourism bosses in the region but were unable to agree a deal due to uncertainty created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
WRC bosses have described Rally Northern Ireland as having been “deferred” for a year, with Jona Siebel, the head of the championship’s commercial rights holder, WRC Promoter, hopeful of including it on the 2022 schedule.
“It’s sad the WRC will not enjoy the beauty of Northern Ireland this year, but the pandemic continues to impact the global economy,” said Siebel. ”Our enthusiasm for a WRC round there remains strong and we look forward to continuing our discussions for 2022.”
Rally Northern Ireland promoter Bobby Willis said: “Tourism Northern Ireland recognises that hosting Rally Northern Ireland in 2021 represented a positive opportunity to profile the region globally and would serve to celebrate Northern Ireland’s motorsport heritage.
“However, it feels Covid-19 could diminish the substantial economic benefits WRC historically bestows upon its host regions and therefore investment would not represent best value for public money at this time.
“We must accept the situation for 2021 and focus on our discussions to explore the avenues for 2022.”
Rally GB has been a mainstay of the WRC calendar since the championship’s first season in 1973, with the exceptions of 1996, when it counted for only the WRC’s 2.0-litre class, and last year, when it was cancelled due to Covid-19.
The event traditionally moved around the country, with a variety of towns and cities serving as host venues, before switching to Cardiff in 2000 with backing from the Welsh government. That led to a title sponsorship agreement, and Wales Rally GB has been based in the principality since then.
If Rally Northern Ireland does secure a place on the calendar for 2022, it would mark the WRC’s return to that region for the first time since the cross-border Rally Ireland event that was held in 2007 and 2009.
Ypres finally secures calendar spot
Ypres Rally Belgium has been a mainstay of the European Rally Championship and was set to be a late addition to last year’s hugely modified WRC calendar before it was cancelled due to rising Covid-19 rates.
The event, which first ran in 1965, will be the 35th different event the WRC has visited and will join Croatia as a brand-new event on the 2021 schedule.