Motorsport UK has cited no firm offer from the Stormont Executive as the principal reason, saying this made “continuing the project unviable”. The news ends months of speculation and frees up the last remaining slot on the 2022 itinerary for another country. 

With the prospect of hosting the British leg of the World Rally Championship this summer now a closed case, Rally Northern Ireland promoter Bobby Willis is turning his attention to next season. 

Last month, Motorsport UK informed Tourism Northern Ireland it was no longer in a position to proceed with the rally, which would have been based out of Belfast and feature special stages made famous by the 2016 Circuit of Ireland when it was part of the European Rally Championship. 

That communication came just nine days after the Economy Minister Gordon Lyons MLA, officials from his department and Willis held a meeting to discuss various aspects of Rally Northern Ireland. 

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It has since said that an event of Rally Northern Ireland’s size was both “complex and resource-intensive” and for those reasons public sector backing was required. It added that as a “not-for-profit members organisation, it is not constituted to fund events of the scale of the WRC directly”. 

Both the FIA and the World Rally Championship Promoter have spoken previously of their wish to bring the competition back to the UK which, following the latest developments, will have been missing from the schedule for a third consecutive year. 

That desire is shared by Willis, who says he remains committed to the project, and to finding a solution that works for all key stakeholders. 

While “bitterly disappointed” by the setback, Willis – a well-known and highly-respected figure in world motorsport circles – reiterated his desire for the province to be a part of the WRC again. 2009 was the last time the WRC visited there when it ran a leg of the cross-border Rally Ireland. 

“My position hasn’t changed – I am happy to keep trying to get it here,” he said. “We were really close to seeing it materialise and while it won’t happen in 2022, I continue to believe in it and believe motorsport on the island of Ireland will benefit tremendously if we can get it over the line. 

“The UK and Ireland needs it to happen but perhaps more importantly the motorsport community needs it to happen,” he added. “The sport on this island needs a World Rally Championship round desperately. 

“We are incredibly fortunate to have produced so many young and exciting drivers – William Creighton, Jon Armstrong and Josh McErlean – but if we’re to keep producing talent like that we need to give them something to aim for. That is where Rally Northern Ireland comes in.” 

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For its part, Motorsport UK says it is “committed to working to bringing the WRC back to the UK – with full support at the highest levels of the organisation – whilst acknowledging the appropriate funding needed to ensure that any associated financial risks are both manageable and contained”. 

Research carried out to establish the financial benefits a round of the World Rally Championship would bring to Northern Ireland show it could inject over £10m to the economy. Room bookings for hotels and B&Bs to accommodate WRC officials, teams and travelling fans is put at 50,000. 

“50,000 room nights equal 50,000 dinners and 50,000 vehicles needing to be refuelled. Or to put it another away, it is 50,000 opportunities,” said Willis. “Post-COVID, I am sure it would help the tourism and hospitality sectors. This is exactly the kind of event businesses in those sectors need.” 

The UK lost out on being part of the World Rally Championship in 2020 when Wales Rally GB was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Rally GB organisers considered moving the event across the Irish Sea in 2021 but a request for funding by Willis was turned down by Tourism NI officials, with the on-going public health emergency cited as the reason at that time. 

The need to call time on 2022 and look ahead to next season means the letters ‘TBC’ that have occupied the August slot on the calendar since last year will soon be filled by an actual fixture.

WRC Promoter Event Director Simon Larkin said: “We have never done a calendar where, in my 13 years, there has been a TBC – ever. This was the first time we have ever done it and we were willing to do it because we wanted to pursue this as much as was needed and to give Bobby as much support, time and effort as we possibly could. 

“The nut here is that while it has not been successful for 2022, the fact that all these critical parties are discussing it and see it as an option for the future, that’s a positive. We have so many different people fighting to make it happen and it’s just unfortunate it didn’t come together for this year,”  he added.