Ireland WRC return paused due to funding delays

At least six months required to carry out economic assessment of new proposal says Motorsport Ireland

Rally Ireland, Sligo 29/1-1/2 2009

Rally Ireland’s hopes of returning to the World Rally Championship in 2025 have been dealt a blow due to funding delays, with Motorsport Ireland indicating it would try again for 2026 instead.

WRC Promoter’s bidding process for 2025 WRC events closed at the end of March but with Motorsport Ireland still without the necessary funding it requested a two-week extension, which was granted.

However, Thomas Byrne, the Irish Minister of State for Sport, Physical Education and the Gaeltacht, has now confirmed that his department will need “at least six months” to undertake further independent economic assessments and analysis of the Motorsport Ireland proposal before committing public funds.

That means Ireland cannot bid for a slot on the 2025 WRC calendar, though Motorsport Ireland has indicated it plans “to see if alternative hosting years are possible beyond 2025.”

A press release from Motorsport Ireland stated: “The closing date for the bidding process with WRC Promoter GmbH was the end of Q1 this year, a date that Motorsport Ireland made both Minister Byrne and the Major Sports Events Unit aware of from the outset. Due to having received no update the Department by the Q1 deadline, Motorsport Ireland requested, and were granted, an extension of a fortnight from the promoter.”

Rally Ireland, Sligo 29/1-1/2 2009

“Motorsport Ireland first approached the Government back in early 2023 and in June of that year had a fruitful meeting with Minister Thomas Byrne and his colleagues where we presented how we can showcase Ireland on the world stage by bringing the World Rally Championship to Ireland for a three-year period. In the meeting Motorsport Ireland were complimented by Minister Byrne that we were doing the right thing by coming good and early with respect to a funding request for a 2025 event. After the meeting we were referred to the Major Sports Events Unit whom we engaged with and submitted a full event screening application on October 6th 2023.”

“To date, Motorsport Ireland have received no questions or feedback on any of the documents we submitted, despite multiple communications to the Department asking if additional information was required.”

“To learn on the last day of our extension from the promoter that Minister Byrne’s Department now require another six months to undertake further independent assessments and analysis is very frustrating.

Rally Ireland, Sligo 29/1-1/2 2009

“From the beginning Motorsport Ireland have been very clear that March 2024 was the cutoff for receiving acknowledgment if we were successful or not in our request for funding. This deadline wasn’t chosen by Motorsport Ireland, this was an operational deadline set by the World Rally Championship promoter.

“The demand for the limited number of slots in the WRC calendar is running at an all-time high and the promoter is in a position to choose host countries that are able to commit and thus benefit from a multi-year major event strategy. The promoter cutoff date must be respected so that they can plan their 2025-2027 calendar strategy. This Q1 deadline was flagged in Motorsport Ireland’s event screening application and in all subsequent communications to the Department.

“We are extremely thankful to WRC Promoter GmbH for granting us an extension to try and make inclusion for 2025 possible but yesterday’s response from Minister Byrne confirms it cannot happen.”

Motorsport Ireland’s president Aiden Harper reinforced that Ireland’s WRC comeback could only happen with public funding: “We always stated that the FIA World Rally Championship could only come to Ireland with the financial support of Government while always being aware that the funding may not be forthcoming,” he said.

“It is a great shame to have to hand this great opportunity, and the economic benefit it would bring, over to another awaiting country.”

DirtFish has contacted the Irish Government’s Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for comment.