Wales Rally GB, Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship, has been cancelled for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The long-running event in North Wales was due to run from 29 October-1 November and would have been the penultimate round of this year’s WRC. But with the event regularly attracting more than 100,000 spectators and ongoing uncertainty about the feasibility of large-scale gatherings, organisers said that “there were too many unknown factors to make the organisation of such a sizeable sporting fixture a realistic, or sensible, option in these uncertain times”.
David Richards, the chairman of Motorsport UK, the event organiser and governing body of British motorsport, said: “This is not a decision that we have taken lightly but, in close consultation with our chief funding partner, the Welsh government, it is sadly one we are obliged to make in light of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.
“We have been closely monitoring the guidance issued by government, and it is becoming increasingly clear that it is impossible to make plans with any certainty for such major events in the autumn. We therefore have to accept, with an incredibly heavy heart, that cancelling this year’s event is the only responsible and prudent option. We will instead start focusing our attentions on creating an even bigger and better world-class showcase for 2021.”
The WRC has been heavily affected by the coronavirus outbreak, with Rally Portugal, the Safari Rally Kenya, Rally Finland and Rally New Zealand already having been cancelled for 2020. Events that were previously due to run in Argentina and Sardinia are officially postponed, although it's unknown how feasible it will be to reschedule these.
The next scheduled event is Rally Turkey on 3-6 September, with Germany and Japan the only other rallies now remaining on the calendar – although there are doubts about whether all three will be able to run. Three rounds of this year’s WRC were completed before the coronavirus lockdowns began, with Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier currently leading the points.
While circuit-racing championships, including Formula 1, are slowly beginning to restart, they are aided by the ability to run without spectators in closed facilities, and with venues that allow for teams and officials to be socially distanced. By contrast, rallies are run over hundreds of miles of special stages across large regions, making eliminating crowds virtually impossible.
In Britain, governing body Motorsport UK is allowing events to restart from July onwards with a number of restrictions in place - including a ban on having more than one competitor in a car at any time. That effectively prohibits rallying, with events currently limited to time-trial-style events at closed, single-venue locations.
Rally GB was also due to include two rounds of this year's British Rally Championship. Series bosses have now decided not to continue with the 2020 season, with the loss of Rally GB added to the cancelled West Cork, Corbeau Seats and Ulster rallies. While the season-opening Cambrian Rally had been held, organisers said "it is not possible to continue with sufficient events to have a full and meaningful championship".
Originally known as the RAC Rally and first run in 1932 – based on an idea from The Autocar – Wales Rally GB is one of just two events to have been a permanent part of the WRC since the series began in 1973 (although it counted only for the second-tier WRC-2 series in 1996). The event has only previously not run due to World War Two in 1940, due to petrol rationing following the Suez Crisis in 1957 and due to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 1967.
Organisers estimate that the event is worth more than £9 million in economic benefits to the North Wales region, while also raising more than £250,000 for local charities.