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No decision in sight over whether World Rally series will return to NI



Title chaser: Craig Breen

Title chaser: Craig Breen

Title chaser: Craig Breen

The long overdue calendar for the 2020 World Rally Championship is expected to be finally released in the coming days but, for now, it is unlikely to clear up speculation over whether the series will be coming to Northern Ireland.

Instead, it will most likely simply list 'Rally GB' for a date next autumn.

The idea of moving the United Kingdom's WRC round from Wales to Northern Ireland has been the subject of intense discussions and negotiations for many months.

High-level talks are still continuing behind the scenes between governing body Motorsport UK, the World Championship promoters and government officials here in Northern Ireland but it is my understanding that no final decision has been made.

The 2020 schedule was originally expected in June but has been delayed due to a number of issues, including a possible return to east Africa and question marks over the future of Rally GB.

It has been based in Wales since 2000 but Motorsport UK chairman David Richards is known to be keen on a rotation system that could see the rally move around the country - Northern Ireland next year, Scotland in 2021 and England in 2022 before returning to Wales in 2023.

But tying down the details has proved complicated, especially with the Northern Ireland Assembly suspended and no local ministers in place at Stormont to sign off on the deal. A decision will have to be made in the next few weeks or Belfast's opportunity to host the World Championship will be lost.

Two rounds of the WRC were staged in Ireland in 2007 and 2009, the first starting in Belfast and the second in Enniskillen.

Meanwhile, the attention switches to the Ulster Rally which kicked off with a ceremonial start at the Albert Basin in Newry last night before the action began in earnest early this morning with nine stages scheduled for the Co Down region.

Drivers, including favourite Craig Breen, had an opportunity to get a feel for the new-look rally with a shakedown stage which passed off without major incident.

The rally is a round of both the Irish Tarmac and British Championships and sees Breen, who will drive an R5 Hyundai i20 for the first time, seeking to secure the Irish title with a round to spare and two Welshmen, Matt Edwards and Tom Cave, locked on equal points at the top of the British series.

Belfast Telegraph