Border bans could scupper Rally NZ’s return

Government regulations to try and thwart the Coronavirus pandemic are going to make it hard for Rally New Zealand to feature in what’s left of this year’s World Rally Championship.

The WRC is still months away from getting underway again, and NZ’s round is still five months away in September, but the chance of the event even forming part of this year’s series is getting slimmer by the day.

Michael Goldstein, CEO of Rally New Zealand, told Talk Motorsport that, like the rest of the world, they were waiting to see what would happen.

They can have as many contingencies plans in place as they can muster, but until the pandemic eases and the world gets back to some form of normality, they’re aiming at a moving target.

The problem that Goldstein and the Rally NZ team have is that even if the WRC gets started again this year, there’s a good chance that it will be centred in Europe to enable enough events to be held in a short space of time, and thus constituting a championship.

That means that a new calendar will be released if, and when, the championship can get going again safely. But that’s not necessarily good news for New Zealand.

The WRC Promoter’s managing director, Oliver Ciesla, told me this week that any such calendar would require many things to fall into place.

“All parties will work to identify potential alternative dates for the postponed rallies later in the season should the COVID-19 situation improve,” Ciesla said.

“This is taking into consideration championship logistics, the ability of competitors to travel again and the ability of the country in question to prepare and host the WRC at such a time.”

The WRC may well get their show back on the road by early in July, but even then, New Zealand’s border control regulations may prevent teams, competitors and spectators from entering the country. And there’s nothing anyone can do about that!

Talk Motorsport’s editor Benjamin Carrell agreed, adding:

“Our Government will not want a second wave of infection, especially as 98% of cases we have so far are directly or indirectly related to international travel,” he said.

All this is terrible news for Rally New Zealand, who have only a one-off appearance in the WRC, for 2020, before Rally Australia re-enters the fray again in 2021.

Should the event not be held this year, Rally New Zealand’s WRC return could well be over before it even began. What a tragedy that would be.

Peter Whitten

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media.

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