Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans Pho­tos: ERC Me­dia, mck­lein-im­age­

A po­ten­tial Cir­cuit of Ire­land re­turn moved a step closer af­ter event or­gan­iser Bobby Wil­lis was joined by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials on a ‘factfind­ing’ mis­sion to Rally of Spain.

North Antrim Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Ian Pais­ley and two rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Tourism North­ern Ire­land were in Spain with Cir­cuit of Ire­land event direc­tor Wil­lis.

Wil­lis told Mo­tor­sport News his pri­or­ity re­mains to re­turn the Cir­cuit of Ire­land to the in­ter­na­tional rally cal­en­dar.

Wil­lis said: “Two rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the event’s side of Tourism North­ern Ire­land came for a site visit to see the po­ten­tial of a mo­tor­sport event. I know this rally very well and it can be fas­ci­nat­ing for peo­ple of a non-mo­tor­sport back­ground to come and see what hap­pens with a ma­jor event like this.

“The Cir­cuit hasn’t run for the last two years and it’s not go­ing to hap­pen next year, but we’re tar­get­ing 2020 to bring the event back.”

Wil­lis’ pres­ence in Salou sparked spec­u­la­tion of a pos­si­ble WRC round in North­ern Ire­land.

Asked about WRC am­bi­tions, Wil­lis said: “I’ve never de­nied that my ul­ti­mate am­bi­tion would be to get the Cir­cuit to the high­est level of world ral­ly­ing – that would be an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment for the team and it’s a level at which I think our event would sit com­fort­ably. But we’re talk­ing to the Euro­pean Rally Cham­pi­onship, we’re talk­ing to lots of peo­ple right now, but, like I said, col­lec­tively we’re work­ing to­wards get­ting the Cir­cuit of Ire­land back on the cal­en­dar.”

Bri­tain’s round of the WRC, Wales Rally GB, will re­turn to Wales for the 20th sea­son in suc­ces­sion next year, but MSA chair­man David Richards has ad­mit­ted the event could ro­tate from re­gion-to-re­gion from 2020 on­wards.

Richards said: “They’re [the Welsh Gov­ern­ment] will­ing to sup­port Rally GB for an­other three years, but they also see that if the event has to ex­pand and go to other re­gions of the UK as part of that process, they’re will­ing to sup­port that as well – so long as we’re will­ing to come back again. It’s a win-win for ev­ery­body.”

It’s through such an agree­ment that the move to North­ern Ire­land could be on the cards.

Demo­cratic Union­ist Party mem­ber Pais­ley ac­com­pa­nied Wil­lis in Spain as chair­man of the North­ern Ire­land’s Mo­tor­sport Task Force.

Wil­lis said: “It’s great to have Ian in Spain to see an event run­ning at this level. The Task Force is key to the fu­ture of mo­tor­sport in our part of the world and hav­ing Ian on side with that is vi­tal in ar­eas such as de­vel­op­ing the vol­un­teer base and real­is­ing the eco­nomic im­pact and value of mo­tor­sport in the prov­ince.

“When you’re out here on a WRC round like this, it be­comes ob­vi­ous how much work goes in from the mar­shals and or­gan­is­ers – for Ian to see this first-hand is in­valu­able.”

The event also gave Pais­ley an in­sight into what a WRC round could mean to North­ern Ire­land.

“I’d love to be able to say we can get it to North­ern Ire­land,” said Pais­ley. “That’s one of the rea­sons why I’m here this week, to look at the po­ten­tial for a big mo­tor­sport event like this. And do we have the hunger and the ca­pac­ity to take on some­thing like this? This is For­mula 1 stan­dard and this is For­mula 1 for the work­ing man and it’s [about] try­ing to make sure we could cope with this. I think we could and I think we’d do it bril­liantly, but ob­vi­ously it costs money and Bobby has to per­suade the gov­ern­ment [of the ben­e­fits].

“The po­ten­tial re­turn on in­vest­ment is good and that’s a pos­i­tive. If Bobby can sell that to the boffins cal­cu­lat­ing the num­bers then maybe we can get them to look favourably on the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting a WRC round to North­ern Ire­land. That’s a con­clu­sion Bobby, his team and, I’m sure, all mo­tor­sport fans like me in North­ern Ire­land would love to get to.”

Pais­ley also paid trib­ute to Wil­lis’ hard work and ded­i­ca­tion to re­turn the Cir­cuit of Ire­land to for­mer glo­ries and pos­si­bly be­yond. “This man’s a rock star,” he said. “The in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and knowl­edge he brings is a fan­tas­tic as­set and I think we’d be mad if we don’t cap­i­talise on that sooner rather than later.”

The WRC has been seen twice in the North­ern Ir­ish lanes when a cross­bor­der Rally Ire­land ran out of Sligo in 2007 and 2009.

Craig Breen was the last Cir­cuit win­ner

Ire­land last hosted the WRC in 2009

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