Toyota driver Elfyn Evans says the future of the World Rally Championship (WRC) in Britain is “bleak” and fears it may never return to Wales.
The British leg of the WRC has been held in Wales since 2000, but in 2020 was cancelled because of coronavirus.
It was hoped that the rally would return to Wales, but if a UK leg does go ahead in future it seems Northern Ireland is a more likely destination.
“It’s not looking great in all honesty to get the rally back here,” he said.
“It is probably looking very bleak on the British round of the World Championship, especially in north Wales. It was a fantastic event and one I was really looking forward to getting my teeth into again to be honest.”
The 32-year-old Welshman finished runner-up to Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier this season, losing out on the chance of a maiden title after a crash on stage 11 of the final event of the season in Monza.
The planned 2021 WRC is set to take place over 12 legs, beginning in Monte Carlo on 21-24 January and ending in Japan next November.
Although Evans will be looking to rectify his near title miss in the new campaign, he doubts he will ever be able to compete in the WRC on home soil again.
“It’s a massive disappointment that we don’t have our home round here in north Wales… a massive disappointment for my home area, it’s a disappointment for me as a competitor and many other local competitors,” said Evans, who comes from Dolgellau near Snowdonia.
“It’s not looking great in all honesty to get the rally back here. It was a fantastic event, one of the favourites among a lot of the drivers actually and offered something very unique to the WRC calendar and obviously something quite special for the area.
“A lot of local people like to have the rally here and there’s a massive enthusiasm for the rally.
“But of course you know a lot of things revolve around finances these days and I don’t think that finance is there anymore to run the rally in north Wales as far as I believe, so a massive disappointment.”
Even if he had clinched the WRC title – or does manage to in the future – Evans doubts having a Welsh world champion would have any bearing on bringing the British leg back to Wales.
“In all honesty, I’m not sure that’s going to make such a huge difference, you know it doesn’t come down to one person,” Evans added.
“There has to be an appetite there for from the government, to be honest, to support that scale of event.
“I don’t see one person having or not having success should have any impact on that. The benefit for the local area I would have thought should have superseded anything of that nature.”
The UK’s WRC event was set to move to Northern Ireland for 2021, but has been replaced on the calendar by the Ypres Rally in Belgium next August.
Discussions are ongoing about the WRC returning to Northern Ireland in 2022 and for Evans that would be the next best thing to holding the event in Wales.
“That’s a blow… I was really also looking forward to the event in Northern Ireland because having done a lot of the British Championship years, I did a year of Fiesta Trophy quite early on in my career in Ireland,” he said.
“I think there’s the potential there to get a fantastic rally, albeit in very different conditions to what we have in [Wales] Rally GB, but fingers crossed we can at least keep an event on British soil in the future with the hope of having Northern Ireland in for 2022.
“There’s some fantastic roads there and some fantastic rallies, so you know I think still we could be in for an exciting event and there’s the possibility we’ll get that round in Northern Ireland in 2022, as much of a shame it is not happening this year.
“It will be the same for many other countries who lost a round or who will unfortunately lose theirs, but fingers crossed we can get that round in Northern Ireland together for 2022.”
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the WRC crown, Evans believes he can still take many positives from last season and look forward to the next campaign with confidence.
“I think overall it was still a strong season, of course not the end result we wanted,” he said.
“There was a lot of positives there for our first year together with Toyota. So yeah, of course disappointment on the final round, but overall a positive year and hopefully we can build on that moving forward now into 2021.
“Coming on the back of a strong campaign last year, of course we’re targeting to try and win the title, but also I’m sure all my competitors are there to do the same thing.
“So we’re going to have to find some small improvements from some of the rallies that we did last year to be even better.
“But also remember that you know we had good speed at times as well, so not everything needs to be changed to take those good points and maybe find some minor improvements in some areas, and hopefully we can challenge for the title again.
“We’ve done two days’ testing in the car and we have new tyres for 2021, so that’s something that we have to try and learn about, and of course we’re still trying to develop and improve the car all the time as well, so plenty of things going on since the start of the year.”