UK set to miss out as expanded 2023 WRC calendar progresses

The World Rally Championship is edging closer to releasing an expanded 2023 calendar, although the series has confirmed that the United Kingdom is set to miss out again.

UK set to miss out as expanded 2023 WRC calendar progresses

As previously reported, the WRC is aiming to deliver an expanded 14-event championship next year, comprising eight European rallies and six flyaway rounds, as the series wishes to re-establish a more familiar structure before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK, which hasn’t held a round since Wales Rally GB in 2019, had been among the contenders to fill a slot on the calendar in the form of Rally Northern Ireland. However, the event has struggled to secure the required government funding.

The WRC has worked closely with Rally Northern Ireland promoter and businessman Bobby Willis for the last two years to turn the proposal into a reality.

An August slot on the 2022 calendar was kept open for the rally, but the bid collapsed when a funding agreement from the Northern Ireland government hadn't be committed to within Motorsport UK's timeline.

In June, the WRC’s event director Simon Larkin said a UK round would be unlikely unless "something dramatic” happened, and has now confirmed that the event won’t happen in 2023.

However, Larkin has reiterated the UK is a “critical market” for the WRC and the championship is continuing to support a return in the near future if funding can be sought.

"The UK round won’t be happening in 2023," Larkin told Autosport.

"Of course it is very critical market. The effort that Bobby Willis has put in create what would be a very exciting event in Northern Ireland, and it is very attractive to us, and we will continue to do everything we can to help him and make it happen."

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

While the UK is set to miss out, the WRC has received plenty of interest from European nations to join the 2023 schedule.

Germany is among the new candidates in the mix to secure a spot on the calendar. The tarmac event made its WRC debut in 2002 and had been mainstay on the schedule, before hosting its last WRC round in 2019.

Larkin says the WRC has “far more options than slots” to fill its eight European berths on the 2023 calendar, although it does appear Ypres Rally Belgium won’t be returning next year.

The famous asphalt event made its WRC debut in 2021 having been drafted in to fill a void left by Rally Northern Ireland’s failure to secure funding, and the event again returned this year under similar circumstances.

“We have far more options that we have slots,” Larkin added. “We think we are going to be able to choose the best events that work for everyone sportingly and marketing-wise and logistically, which is a good problem to have.

When asked about Ypres’ future, he replied: “We want to keep Ypres within our families of championships. “We would like to keep it in the ERC [European Rally Championship] so we have the ability to maybe occasionally come into the WRC.”

Outside of Europe, Autosport understands the WRC is expected to host a desert terrain round in the Middle East, while officials in Mexico have indicated that the championship will return in 2023.

The last time the WRC visited the Middle East was in 2011 for Rally Jordan, while Mexico was cut from the calendar after 2020 due to the pandemic.

Mikko Hirvonen, Ford Focus WRC

Mikko Hirvonen, Ford Focus WRC

Photo by: Sutton Images

This would join fellow long haul events in Kenya, which has a deal until 2026, and rounds in New Zealand and Japan, which are both working towards a renewal for 2023, plus one other round.

“If it comes out as we intend it too, we think we will be very happy [with the calendar],” said Larkin.

“We think it is the best calendar for the teams for the sport and for everything. We are back to being a proper world championship with the strongest events we can do.

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“Teams are consulted on logistics as our ambition is to stretch the number of events and the number of events outside Europe.

“I’m very conscious of current logistics timelines and how difficult it is particular with sea freight. We are being sympathetic and consultative on that.”

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