The World Rally Championship is evaluating a number of locations for its first U.S. rally in more than three decades, including Washington State, the Great Smokies section of the Appalachian range, New England and the stretch of the Rocky Mountains between Utah and Colorado, the sport’s director of business development Marc de Jong told Jalopnik in an interview.
Last summer FIA Rally Director Yves Matton confirmed that the WRC was “working quite hard” on returning to the U.S. for the first time in 35 years. Matton said that at the time that the goal was for a candidate rally — a test session to evaluate the feasibility of a new round — to be conducted sometime in 2022.
De Jong, who is leading the project to bring the WRC back to American soil, said that the sport is still focused on running such a trial before the end of this year, with an eye toward a 2023 debut of an official U.S. rally on the calendar. “It may be a little optimistic,” de Jong said, “but we are giving this our best shot.”
De Jong said that his team has researched “some 17 locations” across the country since March 2020 in search of the best home for a rally. Out of that group, four have received “extra effort” and appear to be leading at the moment.
One of the obvious choices — especially as it served as the setting for the last U.S. WRC contest — is Washington State “from ocean shore to mountain top,” de Jong said. The proximity to a major city in Seattle and the infrastructure that affords, in tandem with roads ideal for rallying, make it a standout venue. After all, the Olympus Rally has continued for the last three decades under the SCCA and ARA at varying times, long since the WRC ended its involvement with the event in 1988.
“In general terms, what is on our wishlist is a place that is, you know close enough to challenging roads, a city with some international renown and a place which is relatively easy to access with international travel,” de Jong said. “And you end up being somewhat restricted with your opportunities on that one. But you wouldn’t be surprised if I said things like the Pacific Coast around Seattle is probably a good location to look at.”
The WRC has also identified the southern Appalachians — “think Tail of the Dragon but on gravel,” de Jong said — as a potential candidate. “I like the idea that the original moonshiners used that road and that kind of driving to outrun the law,” he added.
Depending on where the U.S. round falls on the calendar, de Jong told us that New England presents opportunity for a winter rally — though settling on a region that can guarantee precipitation might be tricky. The Rocky Mountains between Utah and Colorado have received attention as well, however de Jong expressed concern that many paths there, particularly around Pikes Peak, are dead ends. “Finding roads through the Rockies that are both challenging and connect into multiple stages... that’s a challenge,” he added.
Those were just the four spots that de Jong was able to highlight. “It’s by no means the final short list,” he told us. And while the U.S. — not to mention the various municipalities the WRC may have to work with — presents its own share of legal and safety quirks, de Jong seemed fully confident that the sport’s efforts wouldn’t be stymied by red tape.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to go around the world for the last 20 years from WRC event to WRC event,” de Jong said. “I’ve come across quite a few different approaches to road closure agreements and things like that and there’s nothing I’ve come across that’s surprised me.
“What I do know is that you have to be extremely thorough,” he added. “Because you’ll get asked the questions, and they expect you to know the answers. So as long as we do our homework, I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to surprise us.”
The WRC’s three automaker partners — Ford, Hyundai and Toyota — have emboldened the project. Unsurprisingly, de Jong said Ford has been especially keen. While the manufacturer’s rally program is still spearheaded by M-Sport in the United Kingdom, in recent years it’s fallen under the purview of Ford Performance in Michigan, rather than the European arm of the company.
Couple corporate interest with an untapped fanbase on our shores — de Jong told me 20 percent of the sport’s social media audience is based in the U.S. — and the stars are aligning for a comeback. If all goes according to plan, the WRC could announce a final location as soon as the spring.