World Rally Championship organisers have released a Eurocentric 2021 calendar which does not include a return to Australia.
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to be a key reason for the omission, with WRC Promoter keen to avoid significant upheaval to yet another season.
The first five rounds of 2021 are set to be held in Europe, where as Rounds 3 to 5 of the original 2020 calendar were to have taken place in South and Central America.
Furthermore, of the 12 rounds planned for next year, only three will be held outside Europe.
Motorsport Australia is disappointed at its ongoing absence but acknowledged the circumstances which WRC Promoter faces.
“We have been in regular discussions with the WRC promoter and the FIA about the plans for 2021 and while it is unfortunate that Australia cannot be on the calendar next year, we understand the rationale behind the decision,” said Motorsport Australia CEO Eugene Arocca.
“In the very short term, our focus will be on the RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Championship, but we will also continue to work with both the WRC promoter and the FIA about hosting an Australian round in 2022 at a location to be confirmed.
“Despite this news, Motorsport Australia is still hopeful of hosting some international level rally events, with the regional FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship likely to feature at upcoming RSEA Motorsport Australia Rally Championship events in 2021.”
The decision means that Rally Australia will not be run for at least three years straight, given last year’s Coffs Harbour finale was called off due to bushfires.
Monte-Carlo, however, retains its position as the season-opener, on January 21-24, and is followed by Sweden in February.
While those two events are scheduled for early in the year out of necessity, there is then a break of more than two months “to allow maximum time for the effects of the pandemic to ease,” according to WRC Promoter’s announcement.
Competition resumes in Croatia, followed by rounds in Portugal and Italy.
The first non-European round will be Safari Rally Kenya on June 24-27, marking its belated return after it was originally set to make a comeback this year.
Estonia, which made its WRC debut weeks ago, is back again in 2021, followed by Finland, the United Kingdom, Chile, Spain, and the season finale in Japan on November 11-14.
“COVID-19 has hit international sporting events extremely hard,” observed WRC Promoter Managing Director Jona Siebel.
“WRC has not been spared, leading to the unfortunate cancellation of several events throughout 2020.
“So, in developing the 2021 FIA World Rally Championship calendar, we had to take pragmatic and strategic decisions on the continuing impact on global travel next year.
“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.”
The reserve rounds are Turkey, Latvia, Belgium, Greece, Italy (Monza), and Argentina, the latter of which is earmarked to replace non-European rallies.
The first three rounds of the 2021 Motorsport Australia Rally Championship were announced last month, with a season launch in Ballarat on February 16 before Round 1 proper in Canberra in March.
In the WRC, Rally Italia Sardegna takes place this weekend.
World Rally Championship 2020 calendar
|8||Finland||Jul 29-Aug 1|
|9||United Kingdom*||Aug 19-22|
* Subject to agreement