British WRC round cancelled again: 'It's just so frustrating'

Rally News

After the Northern Irish government failed to commit to a WRC event in the province, there will be no UK round in 2022

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The new Hyundai i20 Rally 1 car


There’s a buzz around rallying that hasn’t been seen for years: a new generation of hybrid cars, a sense that this could finally be Elfyn Evans’ year, and the return of Sébastien Loeb to a WRC round.

None of this, however, will be seen in one of the sport’s heartlands, with news that all hope of a top-tier UK rally in 2022 has been extinguished.

Two of the key figures behind the project to reinstate the UK’s WRC round told Motor Sport how time ran out to secure government support for the event, which had a provisional slot reserved on the calendar in August.

“You have to draw the line somewhere”

Hugh Chambers, CEO of governing body Motorsport UK, said that the agreement had been delayed so long that the rally could no no longer be organised in time for the summer.

“It’s so frustrating – but you have to draw the line somewhere,” he said.

It will be the third year running that the UK misses out on a WRC round: the last two Wales Rally GB rounds were cancelled, first due to Covid and then when the slot was lost to Rally Ypres.

Rally GB has seen British WRC heroes Colin McRae and Richard Burns win their home event in front of adoring crowds, whilst many crucial title deciders have played out on Welsh forest roads, but now for the third year in a row there will be no blue riband off-road event in the UK, after plans to hold a Rally Northern Ireland event this season finally ground to a halt.


Rally Ireland featured in WRC in 2007 and 2009


The the last two Wales Rally GB rounds were cancelled first due to Covid and then losing its slot to Rally Ypres. Motorsport UK had an agreement with the Northern Irish government for a 2022 event plan to be confirmed within a certain deadline, which has long since passed. With the latter still evaluating funding for the event, the former said in a statement that due to the “increasing financial risk” it felt it could wait no longer and risk underwriting the rally.

“The organisation of a WRC event is an extremely complex enterprise with lots of different moving parts,” Chambers told Motor Sport. “The original deadline was 12 months ahead of the provisional slot on the calendar which was August 2022, we were well past that and it was becoming increasingly difficult.”

Chambers has credited the efforts in Northern Ireland of former rally co-driver and Rally NI event director Bobby Willis, the interface between Motorsport UK and the country’s authorities who almost managed to pull the rally together for this year.


Sébastien Loeb won on both previous WRC Rally Ireland rounds


“We had a very good operational plan in place,” he said. “Bobby [Willis] is extremely experienced and adept at putting together the plans – it was very much driven by him on the ground. We were confident and continue to be confident that we could put on a great event in Ireland.

“It is contingent on government funding. You can go around the world and see the vast majority of WRC events do have that.”

Willis, also speaking to Motor Sport, described the hurdles in securing government support from Tourism Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive for an international motor sport event.

“It has been very difficult,” he said. “You’re bringing something which is relatively unknown in size to a government body who, are maybe not suspicious but, need to check things out carefully.

From the archive

“So, although they will know about rallying and cars and things like that, it’s still all a bit new to them – to understand that they’re going to have however many millions of viewers around the world watching the roads of Northern Ireland and the scenery – because it’s a car event.

“In a normal person’s imagination, a car [in a motor sport event] goes round and round the lap, and Murray Walker’s talking.

“The WRC have been wonderfully supportive of us and done fantastically with all the promotion of other events, but I think we all know that somehow we need to get the casual viewers interested as much as the motorsport aficionados. It just takes a long time to get things done – but you need the government body on board basically.”

Willis also emphasised just how crucial it is for there to be a WRC round in the UK, and why he feels that Northern Ireland is the prime location for it.

“Every bone in my body is telling me that unless we’re prepared to give up rallying, we have to work to get a top tier event and NI is the only opportunity, in my opinion, in the UK,” he said. “It’s the only place, that I understand, that they’re looking at.

“One of my key fears is if we don’t have that top tier, then why do we need the second tier? Why do we actually need homologated cars? Because we don’t have anything to lift our standards up and encourage people to be part of that sport.

“In Northern Ireland, we have two or three really good young run young drivers: Josh McErlean, Will Creighton John Armstrong – Craig Breen was once one of those young guys – and they do it because there’s [in previous years] a pathway to success.”

Willis believes he and his team have strong evidence to back up the potential popularity of an event in Northern Ireland and therefore benefit for all parties concerned.

Loeb NI

Chambers says a lack of government funding meant the event could not go ahead


“We did a survey about the public’s desire for a NI WRC round, which was targeted at the Republic of Ireland and the mainland Great Britain,” he said. “It went through Facebook and social media, with 16,000 positive responses. 26% came from NI, GB had 34% and RI 32%.

“We did that just to prove to NI tourism authorities that people were going to come into the country – it could translate into 50,000 room nights – and those were the conservative numbers.

“It’s easy to sit in your ivory towers and say, ‘Oh no, we can’t afford it. Or we can’t do this. We can’t do that.’ It’s not so easy to say: ‘How can we make it work?’ But I think that is really important.”

“It’s easy to sit in your ivory towers and say, ‘Oh no, we can’t afford it.”

Chambers emphasised the efforts which had gone into making the event happen, hoping the some of that hard work has a residual impact on a potential 2023 event.

“The UK should have a round of the WRC,” he said. “It’s not just by right of heritage – which is clearly there – but also just from the fact that we have one of the larger vehicle and consumer markets in the UK – we think WRC deserves to be here.

“A huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes. Hundreds of hours are expended trying to get this across the line and to not get across the line when an awful lot of moving parts are in place, it’s immensely frustrating, but as with anything in life, you’ve got to draw the line at some point.”