Rally GB could land in Northern Ireland in 2020
The chances of Britain’s round of the WRC relocating to Northern Ireland next year are on the up according to a government report.
The motorsport taskforce report has fuelled hopes that Rally GB will switch to Ulster from Wales in 2020. A cross-border Rally Ireland was last on the WRC calendar in 2007 and 2009.
Top Hyundai driver and Irishman Kris Meeke reckons the taskforce’s work means that Northern Ireland can have a "prosperous” future in motorsport.
"There are more team members from Northern Ireland working in the WRC and coming out to spectate," said Meeke. "I've been following the work of the taskforce closely and it's important that they get the necessary support so they can implement it in the near future."
The Taskforce, chaired by DUP MP Ian Paisley, looked into the economic benefit of all motorsport in Northern Ireland, as well as various safety issues, and has said the government should invest more in the sport. Additional speculation that Corsica and Germany may lose their places on the WRC calendar opens up the opportunity for a new tarmac round of the championship. Bobby Willis, event director of the Circuit of Ireland, says that his team has been working hard to make the possibility a reality.
"Hopes are massively high,” Willis said. “Everything is realistic and we're certainly all working hard. Hopefully once we're through the feasibility study we can keep pushing on. We can't say too much until that study takes place but we're all hopeful it can happen. It's everything I've ever dreamed of. It all comes down to the figures and numbers, but having Kris Meeke and Craig Breen can certainly help and they're mad keen to get it over here. I know the roads across Ireland are the best about and we have everything going for us, so it would be great if we can pull it off. The taskforce gives hope for all of motorsport, not just for one particular event.”
As well as the work of Willis and his people, there have been positive signs from the British governing body Motorsport UK. It recently signed a three-year contract to extend Wales Rally GB's connections with the WRC but added that there is an "appetite" to move the event to other parts of the UK, adding that "exploratory conversations" have taken place between the Welsh Tourist Board and Tourism Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, Paisley believes that the WRC coming to Northern Ireland "is a real prospect" despite the lack of a local government at Stormont.
"Technically it can happen without Stormont in place, but it makes sense that the political drive is from our government," said Paisley. "If you ask all the parties whether they want big events to come to Northern Ireland they will all say yes, but the impediment now is to make sure the WRC promoters and the FIA are happy. We've done it with golf tourism and there's no reason why we couldn't do it with motorsport too. The decision and assessment lies with Tourism Northern Ireland but we need the government to step up to the mark to make it happen by signing contracts.”
The taskforce report calls for greater investment in motorsport events in general, using the example of the North West 200, which race officials say gets £70,000 from the government and brings in £12 million to the economy.