The UK will be without a round of the World Rally Championship for a third consecutive season after efforts to land a Northern Irish-based round for 2022 failed.
Having worked tirelessly to bring the series to Belfast on a proposed August date, time has beaten both the local promoter in Norther Ireland and WRC Promoter. While there had never been tacit Promoter confirmation that a ‘tbc’ (to be confirmed) alongside an asphalt rally in August had been destined for the UK, it was. And now it’s not.
The driving force behind a UK world championship round – Bobby Willis – is now focusing his efforts on concluding an agreement for next season.
“The focus absolutely is on bringing a WRC round to the UK in 2023,” Willis told DirtFish. “There are so many drivers in the UK and in Ireland who absolutely deserve it – not to mention all the organizers, marshals and fans out there.
“When we’ve got drivers like Craig Breen and Elfyn Evans, and a whole raft of younger drivers coming through from here, we need to give them a home round of the championship.
“We want to see and secure a future for the WRC in the UK.”
WRC Promoter event director Simon Larkin echoed those sentiments, adding: “We continue to work to finding a resolution for a WRC round in the UK in 2023.”
There is significant frustration within the service park that Northern Ireland couldn’t be finalized, given the combined efforts of both Larkin and Willis along with high-profile support from MP Ian Paisley.
Larkin wouldn’t be drawn on where the WRC will go for its stated August date, but Ypres and Monza are likely to join others on a shortlist.
Prior to 2020, the UK had run on the WRC calendar every year since 1973.
One source told DirtFish: “This one’s hard to swallow. There’s so much effort locally [in Northern Ireland]. After Wales went after 2019, this [rally] is the only hope for the UK and yet that’s still not enough to get everybody behind it.”
There was reported to be surprise at every level when Motorsport UK wrote to one of the event’s principal partners Tourism NI on December 17, advising they were unable to proceed.
The source added: “As far as we were told, the Department for the Economy [in the Northern Ireland government] was still considering the business case when that letter came in.”
Wales was lost as a backer for the WRC in 2019. Officially, the event didn’t run in 2020 because of COVID-19, but it’s understood that dwindling support from Wales (after sponsoring the event for 19 years) meant it wouldn’t have stood up financially.
A UK round was included on the original 2021 calendar, but it was replaced by Belgium’s Ypres Rally in January last year after a British alternative for Wales couldn’t be found.
Motorsport UK chairman Hugh Chambers told DirtFish: “A UK WRC event is complex and resource intensive, and as such is reliant on significant government support. Motorsport UK is a not-for-profit members organization and is not constituted to fund events of the scale of the WRC directly.
“In the summer of 2021, a detailed funding application was submitted to Tourism Northern Ireland, and this was subsequently passed to the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy.
“Having identified a potential date of August 2022 it was widely recognised that a 12-month lead time would be needed. Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became inevitable that governments would reappraise expenditure, and as a result the business case assessment for a WRC event in Northern Ireland became more protracted than normal.
“By mid-December 2021, the increasing financial risk for Motorsport UK of underwriting a 300km [186-mile] closed-road WRC event in the summer of 2022, combined with no definitive offer of the requisite funding from the Northern Ireland Government, made continuing the project unviable.
“Given the efforts expended by many stakeholders, including government departments and political leaders, this was extremely disappointing.
“Motorsport UK is committed to working to bring the WRC back to the UK, with full support at the highest levels of the organization, whilst acknowledging the appropriate funding needed to ensure that any associated financial risks are manageable and contained.”