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Belgium will host a round of the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time after Renties Ypres Rally Belgium was added to the 2020 calendar.
The asphalt event will take place on 19 - 22 November, replacing Rally Japan as the eighth and final round of the season.
Japan’s return to the WRC after a 10-year hiatus has been regrettably called off due to border entry restriction policies imposed by the government due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Belgium will become the 34th nation to stage a WRC round since the series started in 1973.
Ypres was first held in 1965 and has become established as one of Europe’s most demanding rallies. Previous winners include current Hyundai Motorsport WRC driver and home hero Thierry Neuville in 2018 and team-mate Craig Breen last season.
It will feature about 300km of special stages across three full days of competition. Sunday’s final leg will be focused on the iconic Spa race circuit, with the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage featuring the famous Eau Rouge / Raidillon section of the track.
A service park in the heart of Ypres’ historic Grote Markt will be the rally hub and Simon Larkin, WRC Promoter’s senior director events, said the rally would provide a unique test for competitors.
“For many years Ypres was a hugely popular cornerstone of the FIA European Rally Championship. Its elevation to the WRC will provide one of the sternest challenges of the year for competitors and a fitting finale to the 2020 season,” he said.
“Its tricky mix of narrow asphalt lanes and big ditches lining the roads, allied with some stages in the dark and the potential for mixed weather, will provide plenty of thrills and spills for fans.”
FIA Rally Director Yves Matton said: “We’re very disappointed Rally Japan will not happen this year due to the pandemic, in particular given all the hard work undertaken by the Japanese authorities, the Japanese Automobile Federation and the organising team. I thank them for that.
“Belgium has a great tradition and passion for rally, evidenced by the number of Belgians in various roles – drivers, mechanics, team principal, journalists – in the WRC. The route will showcase the DNA of the rally as it crosses the country by linking Ypres to Spa-Francorchamps, two iconic venues of Belgian motorsport,” he added.
Jan Huyghe, board member for Ypres promoter Club Superstage, said it had always been an ambition of the club to host a WRC round in Belgium.
“It’s a tremendous honour because as an organiser you always want to reach the highest level,” he added.
“Ypres Rally has a cast-iron reputation in terms of organisation and safety and the city of Ypres has had the rally in its genes for 56 years. Rally is integral to the region and we receive a lot of support and facilities from the city to organise our rally in a unique historical context.”
A disappointed Koji Takahashi, chairman of the Rally Japan 2020 executive committee, said the focus would now turn to preparations for the 2021 event in the Aichi and Gifu regions. Japan is one of nine rounds already confirmed for next season’s FIA WRC calendar.
The 2020 calendar is:
||23 - 26 January
||13 - 16 February
||12 - 15 March
||4 - 6 September
||18 - 20 September
||15 - 18 October
||29 October - 1 November
||19 - 22 November
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