FIA puts damper on revamped Rally NZ

All dressed up with nowhere to go. That’s the scenario facing Rally New Zealand as the World Rally Championship starts planning towards 2021.

Just days after Rally NZ announced exciting plans for a ‘test event’ in mid-November, with new forest locations and a spectator-friendly Power Stage, the rally’s hopes seem to have been dashed.

It’s not hard to picture the slumping of shoulders and gritting of teeth in the rally office last weekend, as the FIA published nine events that will feature in next year’s WRC.

Australia was on the list, New Zealand wasn’t, with the FIA seemingly keeping their word that NZ had an event in 2020, before the Aussies returned in 2021.

Coronavirus soon put paid to that, with September’s return of the event cancelled due to the pandemic. It was hoped that the rally would be rescheduled into the 2021 calendar, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Post COVID-19, and with uncertainty remaining over the resumption of the 2020 WRC, manufacturers only want 10 rallies in next year’s championship.

The financial downturn from the pandemic has hit hard, and reducing the number of rallies certainly makes sense from a financial point of view.

The WRC, it is understood, want 12 rallies. At best, this leaves only three spots available on the 2020 calendar, and perhaps only one.

You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that with countries like France, Great Britain, Argentina, Mexico and Turkey not in the calendar, then it will be a stretch for New Zealand to fill one of the final three spots.

We all know that running an event in both ‘Down Under’ locations could (and has) worked. Logistically it makes sense, but for some reason the FIA and the WRC Promoter don’t see it that way.

So, is this the end for Rally New Zealand and the World Rally Championship? You’d have to hope not.

Event CEO, Michael Goldstein, was unavailable for comment when contacted by Talk Motorsport, but rally chairman, PJ Johnston, was talking up the chances last week.

“We are taking this opportunity to shakedown Jack’s Ridge and the stages around Auckland to showcase our preparedness for hosting the 2021 WRC event,” he said at last week’s test event launch.

“The FIA and WRC Promoter are aware that we have invested significantly into the return of Rally New Zealand.

“We believe when fans get the chance to check out Jack’s Ridge, they will get a sense of the excitement and magnitude of hosting the World Rally Championship which we hope will be included on the 2021 calendar.”

Whether that’s now a pipe dream, or still a realistic possibility, is something only the FIA and the WRC Promoter can answer.

2021 WRC events confirmed:

Monte Carlo 1 Tarmac  
Finland Gravel  
Portugal Gravel  
Sweden Snow WMSC confirmed in 2019
Kenya Gravel WMSC confirmed in 2019
Spain Tarmac WMSC confirmed in 2019 1
Italy Gravel WMSC confirmed in 2019
Japan Tarmac WMSC confirmed in 2019
Australia 2 Gravel WMSC confirmed in 2019 1

1. Subject to Event Promoter Agreement
2. New location, same organiser

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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