World Rally Championship: Push for Circuit of Ireland return

Craig Breen and Scott Martin celebrate their win in 2016
Craig Breen, who now competes with Citroen in the World Rally Championship, was the last Circuit of Ireland winner in 2016 when it ran as a round of the European Rally Championship

Circuit of Ireland rally director Bobby Willis and MP Ian Paisley attended the World Rally round in Spain last month to view a potential return of the WRC.

The event pushed to join the WRC for last year but has not run since 2016.

Paisley chairs the Motorsport Taskforce and visited Rally Spain to see what a WRC round could bring to Northern Ireland.

The WRC visited Ireland in 2007 and 2009, with nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb winning both events.

It would be an added boost for Northern Irish motorsport, with Dungannon's Kris Meeke set to return to the WRC with Toyota next year.

"I'd love to be able to say we can get the WRC to Northern Ireland," Democratic Unionist MP Paisley told Autosport, "That's one of the reasons why I'm here, to look at the potential for a big motorsport event like this."

He added: "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 Circuit recently ran on the European Rally Championship calendar, with current WRC drivers Craig Breen, Andreas Mikkelsen and Esapakka Lappi all taking part before stepping up to rallying's main series.

"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," said Willis.

"I've never denied that my ultimate ambition would be to get the Circuit to the highest level of world rallying," he added ,"It 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. Collectively we're working towards getting the Circuit of Ireland back on the calendar."