Circuit of Ireland renews push for World Rally Championship slot

Circuit of Ireland organisers have renewed their push for a World Rally Championship slot ahead of this week's record-breaking 2016 edition

Circuit of Ireland renews push for World Rally Championship slot

This year's event counts for both the British and European Rally Championships and the Irish Tarmac Championship.

It has attracted a 38-strong international entry of R5/S2000 machinery, and there were nearly 200 applications for the 145 spots available overall.

The event has been funded by local councils as well as Discover Northern Ireland (the NI tourist board), but event director Bobby Willis says there is increasing government interest with strong ministerial support for taking the event to the next level.

"We've always had very good links with government, but it's stronger than ever now," he said.

"People are really seeing the incredible benefits this rally can deliver to Northern Ireland - and we're not just talking about the 40 million or so folk who will see the thing on television.

"What we have to do now is foster this support and turn it into the sort of financial backing which I believe would make us a very, very strong candidate for a world championship round.

"Bringing the WRC back to this island is a dream for everybody in our team; it's the pinnacle and with the right backing I firmly believe we could make not just a WRC round, but a bloody good WRC round."

Despite its name, the Circuit of Ireland has been rooted firmly in Northern Ireland in recent years - and that is something else Willis is determined to change.

"Crossing the border to Ireland is absolutely possible and I think we have to look at that as part of the event's future," he said.

"I'm not about to rule anything out where this rally is concerned, but what's vital is to get some buy-in from the Irish government."

First run in 1931, the Circuit is the world's third oldest rally.

Lines of communication remain between the Circuit organisers and WRC Promoter.

One potential barrier to the island's world championship return is Rally GB and the promoter's reluctance to run two WRC rounds in one country, though it is believed FIA president Jean Todt could be persuaded.

A high-level WRC source told Autosport: "If the Circuit of Ireland came with a cross-border event underpinned by long-term government support - in the same style of Wales - I'm pretty convinced that would be hard for any of us to ignore.

"Granted, the market's not huge and it's another European event, but look at the history and the heritage, that side of things would certainly appeal to our president."

The island last appeared on the WRC calendar in 2007 and '09, when Sebastien Loeb won both runnings of an event based in the Republic.

The 2016 Circuit of Ireland begins with a ceremonial start in Lisburn on Thursday evening and finishes in Belfast on Saturday.

Leading entries include BRC championship leader Elfyn Evans and his ERC counterpart Kajetan Kajetanowicz, plus WRC driver and 2015 Circuit winner Craig Breen.

For a comprehensive preview of the Circuit of Ireland, see this week's issue of our sister publication Motorsport News - available in shops now

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