THE world's best rally drivers are returning to Cheshire for competitive action this autumn as Oulton Park is to host the first stage of this year's Wales Rally GB.

For the first time since 1993, the Little Budworth venue, known for hosting rounds of the British Touring Car Championship and British Superbikes, will be the scene for the opening special stage on October 3 in the new-look event.

Competing will be World Rally Championship cars featuring star drivers such as multiple world champion Sébastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak and local heroes Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans, winner of Wales Rally GB in 2017.

Marking the milestone 20th running since the international event moved to Wales at the start of the millennium, it was revealed the event's base has moved from Deeside, its home for the past few years, to a new base within Llandudno.

For the first time in recent history, Wales Rally GB will kick off over the English border on Thursday afternoon with its showpiece ceremonial start relocating into Liverpool’s iconic Waterfront. Previous ceremonial starts in recent years have seen WRC cars paraded through Chester city centre.

But for many, the Thursday evening will be their first opportunity to experience the latest generation of superfast World Rally Cars.

A full evening of entertainment is planned, with appearances from WRC legends and iconic vehicles, live music and DJs, historic rally displays and an autograph session which will be open to all spectators.

The rest of the rally will take place in Wales, through forests and a Saturday evening stage on the streets of Colwyn Bay, stages on the Denbigh Moors and a dash around the iconic Great Orme peninsula.

As an incentive to inspire the next generation of potential rally fans, all those aged under 16 continue to be provided with free general admittance to all 22 timed special stages when accompanied by an adult.

Oulton Park tickets can be purchased for £25 per adult with a £25 Grandstand upgrade option also on offer. Access is strictly via advanced tickets only as no tickets will be available on the gate.

Hugh Chambers, chief executive of Motorsport UK and organiser of Wales Rally GB, said: “Every year we engage fresh thinking to add further dimensions to what this extraordinary event offers both competitors and spectators.

"We feel strongly that by moving the start to Liverpool and Thursday evening’s curtain-raiser to Oulton Park, this year’s Wales Rally GB will not only get off to its most accessible and exciting start for many years but also entice more people into Wales for the incomparable action which follows in the forests."

Wales Rally GB has competed in Cheshire in recent years, with Cholmondeley Castle hosting a superspecial stage in 2016 and 2017.