The World Rally Championship (WRC) has announced its full 2021 calendar, featuring 12 rallies including a first ever Rally Croatia and a long-awaited return to Kenya for the Safari Rally.
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.
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The season is set to kick off with its traditional opener in Monte Carlo (just over a month after the final rally of 2020) before heading through Sweden, Croatia, Portugal and Italy before the convoy heads to Kenya in June.
Rally Estonia is currently pencilled in for mid-July, subject to final agreement, before trips to nearby Finland and Rally GB. The final three rallies of 2021 see the WRC circus flying around the world, first to Chile, before they return to Europe for the Spanish round in Catlunya, and then fly to Japan to end the season.
The only round in real danger is the British round of the championship, one of its oldest. With government support still sought by the organisers and a tug-of-war going on between the gravel tracks of Wales and the tarmac roads of Northern Ireland. If government funding is not secured soon it looks likely that the GB round will slip from the WRC calendar for the first time since 1996.
WRC Promoter managing director Jona Siebel said: “The inclusion of Croatia to the WRC for the first time is an exciting new challenge to our fixture list and brings huge anticipation.
“COVID-19 has hit international sporting events extremely hard. WRC has not been spared, leading to the unfortunate cancellation of several events throughout 2020
“We could not foresee any long-haul events being held in a safe manner for the public, or for our large group of travelling staff, suppliers, competitors and media, for the first five months of 2021.
“It’s essential our event organisers are fully committed to managing the difficult COVID-19 controls we can expect to be in place next year while delivering high-quality championship rounds. I’m confident the 12 rallies chosen for next year will not let us down.”
In case of any drop offs due to COVID-19, or in the case of Rally GB, lack of funding, rallies in Turkey Latvia, Belgium, Greece, Italy (Monza) and Argentina are on a reserve list.