The asphalt event will take place in August on a date to be confirmed. It will replace the UK’s proposed fixture in Northern Ireland, which has unfortunately been deferred for this year due to uncertainty over public funding relative to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Belgium will become the 35th nation to stage a WRC round – at the second time of asking – since the series started in 1973. Last November’s round in Ypres was called off due to Covid-19.
Ypres was first held in 1965 and has become established as one of Europe’s most demanding rallies. Previous winners include current Hyundai Motorsport driver and home hero Thierry Neuville in 2018 and team-mate Craig Breen the following year.
The rally will feature three days of competition with an atmospheric service park in Ypres’ historic Grote Markt.
Jona Siebel, managing director of WRC Promoter, the commercial rights holder for the championship, said Ypres would be an appetising encounter for teams, drivers and co-drivers.
“Ypres has been a hugely popular cornerstone of European rallying for more than half a century. Its elevation to the WRC will provide one of the season’s sternest challenges and I’m delighted the championship will finally visit Belgium after last year’s unfortunate delay,” he added.
“Its tricky mix of narrow asphalt lanes with big ditches lining the roads, allied with some stages in the dark and the potential for mixed weather, will provide plenty of thrills and spills for fans.”
Siebel acknowledged the difficulties of Rally Northern Ireland obtaining the required government support in such challenging times.
“It’s sad the WRC will not enjoy the beauty of Northern Ireland this year, but the pandemic continues to impact the global economy. Our enthusiasm for a WRC round there remains strong and we look forward to continuing our discussions for 2022,” he said.
FIA Rally Director Yves Matton said: “The 2021 calendar has been developed against the backdrop of the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and we knew we would possibly face ongoing issues in this new year.”
“Bobby Willis and his team have put in a lot of work and efforts to bring the WRC to Northern Ireland and we’re very disappointed there will be no rally in the UK this year,” he added.
“It is a chance for Ypres Rally Belgium to step in after last year’s attempt. It will showcase the DNA of rally with a route that links Ypres to Spa-Francorchamps, two iconic venues of Belgian motorsport. I very much look forward to it.”
In October, Renties Ypres Rally Belgium was named on the WRC’s 2021 reserve list and Alain Penasse, president of event organiser Club Superstage, said the rally was ready to take its place on the calendar.
“Last year our volunteers proved they could switch quickly and organise a WRC event at short notice. Sadly it didn’t happen, but we will be delighted to welcome the WRC for the first time in mid-August,” he said.
“Broadly speaking, we will use last year’s proposed format again. This was clearly appreciated by the participants as the entry list for the 2020 edition looked impressive with 140 teams registered.”
Rally Northern Ireland promoter Bobby Willis explained that requisite public funding was unavailable to support a successful WRC event this year due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
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“Tourism Northern Ireland recognises that hosting Rally Northern Ireland in 2021 represented a positive opportunity to profile the region globally, and would serve to celebrate Northern Ireland’s motorsport heritage.
“However, it feels Covid-19 could diminish the substantial economic benefits WRC historically bestows upon its host regions, and therefore investment would not represent best value for public money at this time.
“We must accept the situation for 2021 and focus on our discussions to explore the avenues for 2022,” he said.
The agreement in principle between WRC Promoter and Renties Ypres Rally Belgium is subject to FIA and ASN (national sporting authority) agreement.