The World Rally Championship (WRC) has announced its full 2021 calendar, featuring 12 rallies including a first ever WRC events for Rally Croatia and Ypres, a long-awaited return to Kenya for the Safari Rally and no date for Britain for the first time since 1996.
The final piece of the WRC 2021 calendar puzzle has been found with the announcement that the WRC Ypres Rally Belgium will take place from 13th-15th August 2021. The tarmac rally fills the gap left by the proposed rally in Northern Ireland that was deferred for 2021 owing to the coronavirus. It is the first time Belgium has held a round of the WRC, becoming the 35th nation to do so.
|8||29th Jul.-1st Aug.||Finland||Jyväskylä|
The WRC is making its first trip to the Arctic Circle with the Arctic Rally Finland in 2021. It’ll take place in Rovaniemi, said to be Santa’s hometown, from 26th-28th February as the second round of the 2021 season, after the opening Monte Carlo round where the now cancelled Rally Sweden would have taken place. Unlike Rally Finland, the eighth round of the season set for 29th July-1st August, the Arctic Rally is a complete snow and ice event – there will be no gravel in sight, with temperatures as low as -30°C. There are ten stages covering 260km, and as you might expect the event will run under strict COVID-19 rules. Whether fans will be able to attend will be down to the local restrictions at the time.
Arctic Rally has become a well-established early season event over the last few years, with many VIP entries including Formula 1 racer Valtteri Bottas and current WRC runners looking for a bit of prep before they move on to Sweden. This year will be the first time that rally has become a full part of the WRC.
A truncated schedule will see shakedown take place on the morning of the first day, with the first stages getting underway later on the Friday, the majority of stages will follow on the Saturday and Sunday.
FIA rally director Yves Matton said: “With Arctic Rally Finland joining the WRC calendar, we will experience a rally in a region that has always made us dream and where conditions promise to be optimal for a snow event.
“Following the unfortunate cancellation of Rally Sweden in December, this is proof that with challenges can come opportunities.”
The WRC has confirmed that the Britain’s iconic Rally GB, which has only missed one season in the history of the WRC, will no longer have a place on a revised 2021 calendar. Instead Rally Ypres, a tarmac rally around the Belgian town of Ypres, will step up from its normal place on the European Rally Championship, to become a full WRC event.
Ypres had been due to take a place in the truncated 2020 season, but was cancelled at short notice when Europe was hit by a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Now the tarmac-only event finds a place on the revised 2021 calendar after Rally GB organisers failed to find the funds for the event to take place at its proposed new home in Northern Ireland.
The UK’s round of the WRC had looked set to move from gravel to tarmac after promoters opted to move from Wales to Northern Ireland following a lack of government support. But they stuggled to convince Tourism Ireland that funding the event was value for money and as a result the event will not take place in 2021.
No formal date has been announced for the first ever Belgian round of the WRC, but it will take place in August.
The Safari rally, which has been absent from the WRC calendar since 2002, and was due to return in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt halt to proceedings. The calendar was paused, with several rallies cancelled, before rallying resumed in September with a revised timetable including new rallies in Estonia, Ypres and Monza.
Such was the success of the first ever Rally Estonia that it will return in 2021 to the full-time WRC calendar, alongside another event which was expected to step into the breach in 2020, Croatia. The Croatian round was mooted by the WRC themselves as a potential addition to the shortened 2020 calendar before it was announced that the season would end with rally Monza.
The new calendar features nine European rounds, and three outside the WRC’s home continent, with the flyaway rounds pushed later in the year to allow time for preparations for any impact the continued coronavirus crisis has on the season. As well as the return to the tracks of the Safari rally, the WRC will also return to Japan and Chile in 2021.