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Local star Breen leading calls for World Rally to return to Northern Ireland in 2021


Craig Breen in action

Craig Breen in action

Hyundai Motorsport / Fabien Dufo

Local rally driver Craig Breen, who is hoping for a World Rally in Northern Ireland in 2021

Local rally driver Craig Breen, who is hoping for a World Rally in Northern Ireland in 2021

Fabien Dufour

Craig Breen in action

Calls for the FIA World Rally Championship to revisit Northern Ireland as early as 2021 are mounting.

Fans' favourite Craig Breen - the defending Irish Tarmac champion, who has been called back into the Hyundai Motorsport fold for August's Rally Finland - and Toyota Gazoo Racing driver Elfyn Evans believe bosses of the series should switch the British round from Deeside in Wales to Belfast next year.

Talks between Motorsport UK officials, politicians and former Circuit of Ireland event director Bobby Willis continue behind the scenes to try and broker a deal aimed at bringing the WRC back to Northern Ireland for the first time since 2009, when it hosted the second day of the cross-border Rally Ireland.

It recently emerged that former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith was close to signing off the money needed to make this happen before the return of devolved power at Stormont.

His successor Brandon Lewis appears to have taken up the mantle, saying the idea is "exciting".

Now, Breen and Evans have thrown their weight behind the ambitious plans, which, should they come off, would see six-time WRC winner Sebastien Ogier and reigning champion Ott Tänak travel across the Irish Sea next autumn.

The course and stages on the blueprint would be over roads in north Antrim (Torr Head and Glendun) and County Down (Hamilton's Folly), similar to 2016, when the European Rally Championship came to Northern Ireland.

Given his Irish connections, Breen is understandably keen to see it materialise.

"Everybody knows that I'm extremely excited (at the prospect) and that I'm always pushing to get the World Rally Championship to Ireland - I really think that it needs to be here," he told Sunday Life Sport.

"We definitely have so much to offer: we have the fans, the environment and, more importantly, we have the stages. The roads are out of this world. It blows me away every time I come back to Ireland, especially when I've been to a round of the WRC. We can provide an incredible spectacle."

Rival and close friend Evans agrees, suggesting Northern Ireland would add an extra dimension to a series that is geared towards gravel: 10 of the scheduled 14 rounds in 2020 are loose surface-based.

Evans has competed here on multiple occasions, the most recent being 2016. "We don't have anything similar to Irish stages in the WRC at the moment," said the son of former British champion Gwyndaf.

"Irish rallies are always well attended - they always have a great atmosphere. Northern Ireland would be a welcome addition. It would add something new."

Sunday Life