After months of speculation, Belgium’s place on this year’s World Rally Championship has been confirmed with the Ypres Rally replacing Rally Japan as the season finale.
Rally Japan is the latest WRC round to be lost to coronavirus, with the Aichi-based event forced off following border restrictions imposed by the government.
November would have marked Japan’s return to the world championship for the first time since 2010.
FIA rally director Yves Matton paid tribute to the Japanese team’s hard work. This is the second year in succession Japan has missed out – the event was included on a draft 2019 calendar before being replaced by Corsica.
“We’re very disappointed Rally Japan will not happen this year due to the pandemic, in particular given all the hard work undertaken by the Japanese authorities, the Japanese Automobile Federation and the organizing team,” said Matton. “I thank them for that.”
Matton’s professional disappointment must have been countered by his personal pleasure at seeing his home country land a slot on the calendar – the 34th country to host a WRC round since the series’ inception in 1973.
“Belgium has a great tradition and passion for rallying, evidenced by the number of Belgians in various roles – drivers, mechanics, team principals, journalists – in the WRC,” he added.
“The route will showcase the DNA of the rally as it crosses the country by linking Ypres to [Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix venue] Spa-Francorchamps, two iconic venues of Belgian motorsport.”
As outlined by DirtFish, the three-day Ypres Rally will include action on the roads around the famous Grote Markt service park before a final day centred on the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
The powerstage will include a run up one of the most famous hills in motorsport: Raidillon.
Simon Larkin, WRC Promoter’s senior director events, welcomed Belgium to the WRC calendar.
“For many years Ypres was a hugely popular cornerstone of the FIA European Rally Championship,” said Larkin.
“Its elevation to the WRC will provide one of the sternest challenges of the year for competitors and a fitting finale to the 2020 season.
“Its tricky mix of narrow asphalt lanes and big ditches lining the roads, allied with some stages in the dark and the potential for mixed weather, will provide plenty of thrills and spills for fans.”
Jan Huyghe, board member for Ypres promoter Club Superstage, added: “It’s a tremendous honor because as an organizer you always want to reach the highest level.
“Ypres Rally has a cast-iron reputation in terms of organization and safety and the city of Ypres has had the rally in its genes for 56 years.
“Rallying is integral to the region and we receive a lot of support and facilities from the city to organise our rally in a unique historical context.”
Japan is one of nine rounds to have been confirmed for the 2021 season, and is expected to run as an autumn event next year.