Dubai: Belgium will stage a round of the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time after the Ypres Rally Belgium was added to the 2021 calendar.
The asphalt event will take place in August on a date to be confirmed later. 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 related 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 confirmed 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 teammate 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 said. “It’s a 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.”
Yves Matton, FIA Rally Director, 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. 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, the Ypres Rally 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.
The agreement in principle between WRC Promoter and Ypres Rally Belgium is subject to FIA and ASN (national sporting authority) agreement.
“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,” Penasse noted.
The World Rally Championship is the FIA’s premium rally series. WRC showcases authentic motorsport, high performance cars and the world’s best drivers competing in dramatic surroundings ranging from the ice and snow of Scandinavia to the blistering heat of Italy in midsummer.
Established in its current format in 1973, WRC participants battle for the drivers’ and manufacturers’ world titles at 12 rallies spanning four continents. The next event will be the Rallye Monte-Carlo from January 21-24.