“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.
“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.”