It might be starting to sound like a broken record, but the insidious COVID-19 virus is again threatening to bring southern hemisphere rallying undone.
There are no immediate concerns in New Zealand, but Australia’s most serious outbreak since 2020 has gripped metropolitan Sydney over the past week, and case numbers continue to rise.
Mercifully, only one person has died from the highly contagious Delta strain so far, but state governments are now locking down regions more quickly than ever in a bid to contain the pandemic.
This is already having major impacts on rallies in Australia with rounds of the NSW and Australian rally championships either postponed or cancelled, or in grave danger of being so.
Still four months away, of major concern is for Coffs Coast Rally organisers, who are hosting the final of this year’s ARC, and the grand finale of the once-great Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
With the winner to receive a drive in a WRC round in Hyundai’s new Rally2 car, there’s plenty at stake in the rally world – but don’t expect governments to take one bit of interest in that.
Of key concern for Australia is the vaccination rate in the country. There are currently 8.9% of Australians who are fully vaccinated, compared to 10.2% of Kiwis.
These are small numbers, particularly when the USA and parts of the UK and Europe are around 50% vaccinated.
What that means for Australia and New Zealand is that borders will open and shut with little or no warning, and that the Trans Tasman bubble could easily slam shut just weeks, days, or even hours before the APRC final is due to be held in late November.
Regardless of the lucrative prize on offer, it may mean that New Zealand rally crews won’t take the risk, and will decide to conserve their money and concentrate on local pursuits.
It may not get to that though. If New South Wales can’t get their COVID wave under control in the next couple of weeks, it will have serious implications for all events – motorsport or not – for the remainder of the year.
Already, football codes, netball competitions and other sports have deserted NSW for safer hubs, and currently that shows no sign of changing.
Rallying is a small player in the sporting field, but expect the implications of this latest COVID cluster to have serious ramifications for the sport in both countries. And it won’t be for the better.
2021 has so far been more successful than 2020 on the competition front, but the way things are going, that could easily unravel faster than a Hayden Paddon stage time on Kuri Bush …
See also: Welcome step to Rally2 raises questions