A new year and a new era dawns for the World Rally Championship. Rally Monte Carlo on 20-23 of this month will feature the all-new hybrid Rally1 cars for the first time. Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford all bring brand new cars out to play this season. The big question for us is will we be able to see them here in Northern Ireland late this summer?
Although the World Motor Sport Council met in December and were expected to ratify the complete 2022 WRC calendar, one of the thirteen rounds has yet to be confirmed. Round 9 should have been Rally Northern Ireland (18-21 August).
Unfortunately, it would appear that an agreement could not be reached by the time of the December meeting, and nothing was decided. The date remains open and hopefully funding will be forthcoming, but time is running out for the Rally NI organisers.
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council have pledged £65,000 to part finance Rally NI, but that is just a drop in the ocean with regard to what would be required to totally fund a WRC event. An unbelievable three million pounds is thought to be the going rate!
Apparently backing from the NI Executive has not been forthcoming in view of the expense involved in dealing with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Also, there is uncertainty over Brexit and the “Northern Ireland Protocol” at the present time. The Democratic Unionist Party are threatening to collapse the power sharing NI Executive unless the protocol issue is sorted soon. Not good.
If the United Kingdom were to fail to secure a round of the WRC this year it would mean that we have not participated in the premier series since Wales Rally GB in 2019. It’s anybody’s guess if and when the World Championship will ever return to these shores!
Finally, this month I must mention the retirement of possibly the most influential motorsport journalist to ever come from Northern Ireland.
Sammy Hamill has been working for the Belfast Telegraph for as long as I can remember. Specialising in rallying, Sammy has reported on and interviewed all the local stars throughout Irish rallying’s golden era from the 1970’s to the present day. Never afraid to say what he thinks, Sammy always got to the heart of the big motorsport issues with his in-depth stories. He even penned a book on the Circuit of Ireland Rally called “Fifty Years On” back in 1981. His column in the “Tele” was the main reason I bought the paper.
Thanks, Sammy, for all your excellent work over the years. The Belfast Telegraph will never be the same again. Enjoy your hard-earned retirement. Now for the ultimate book of your motorsport memories.
Have a happy and safe 2022 everyone.
Rallying as a discipline was given the green light earlier this month, and now Motorsport UK has created a guidance video to help everyone understand the changes we have to undertake. Here is a link to the video:- ReturnToTheStages
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