Last year the World Rally Championship ran without a scoring round in the United Kingdom for the first time since its inception in 1973, but it is set to do so again in 2021.
Confirmation of a plan to replace the UK’s WRC round with Ypres Rally Belgium – in the same August date – is expected on Friday.
Britain’s future in the WRC has been complicated by dwindling backing from the Welsh Government in recent years. The planned Deeside-based 2020 event was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there were hopes of rolling that funding into this season for one final farewell to Wales, the event’s host nation for the last two decades. Wales offered a swift and short answer to such a question: no.
Parallel to that, there has been growing support for a Belfast-based Rally Northern Ireland, funded by a three-way partnership between the Northern Ireland Executive, the Northern Ireland Office and secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport Oliver Dowden.
Despite the best efforts of organizer Bobby Willis and Westminster’s leading WRC lobbyist Ian Paisley, agreement couldn’t be found in time to bring the WRC back to Northern Ireland – especially not at a time when the public purse is being directed towards dealing with the pandemic.
While no official comment has been forthcoming from any of the parties involved, DirtFish understands discussions in Belfast are ongoing for a possible 2022 event.
But the reality remains that, for the first time in almost half a century, British roads will play no planned part in the direction of the world championship. Even when the RAC Rally was forced into the FIA’s event rotation system in 1996, Chester still hosted a round of the FIA’s 2-Litre World Rally Cup.
That 50-year history has been lost to some of the most innovative and forward-thinking organizers in the world, with the Ypres Rally ready to demonstrate what’s possible for a WRC round after almost getting a shot in 2020 before a surge in COVID-19 cases led to the event being called off.
Neither Motorsport UK or the Belgian organizers were available when DirtFish contacted them on Thursday.
In other calendar-related news, all eyes will be a press conference hosted by the French prime minister Jean Castex on Thursday evening. Unless there’s a late change of plan, the Automobile Club de Monaco is expected to be in a position to confirm round one of the WRC in its expected January 21-24 date.
Round two is reckoned to be progressing in a similarly positive form, with February 25-28 the likely date for a Rovaniemi-based WRC-counting Arctic Lapland Rally.