The Australian Rally Championship (ARC) went back to the future when round two of the series took place in Canberra in mid-May.
A combination of rising costs, changing rules and competitors needing to spend more and more time away from work has seen the series introduce two one-day rallies in 2019.
Yet, despite the bid to attract more entries, it can only really be labelled as a moderate success.
The New Zealand Rally Championship aside, rallying ‘down under’ is suffering from a lack of entry numbers in both the Australian and Asia Pacific championships, and moves this year have been made to get both back to their ‘glory days’.
2018’s National Capital Rally was a round of the APRC, but had a dismal ARC entry of just 10 cars.
This year, without a round of the APRC attached to the event, but with a round of the NSW Rally Championship added, entry numbers had risen to 35 cars.
Unfortunately, only 17 of those were registered for the ARC, and only 14 of those started the rally.
If building entries in the ARC field was the primary reason to reduce the event to a one-day format, you could argue that it was a failure.
Yet, there were positives.
While the NZRC’s one-day rallies are generally only one heat, the National Capital Rally was two heats – four stages in the morning, and four in the afternoon.
This gave competitors the chance to score two lots of points, while also giving those who failed to finish either heat some hope of getting something out of the weekend.
The problem was, however, that the short 30-minute service break between the two heats (plus extra time for touring to and from the stages) meant that some of the event’s leading teams couldn’t get their cars fixed on time.
Lewis Bates rolled his factory Toyota Yaris AP4 on stage three, and while the damage was only superficial, a holed radiator meant the crew couldn’t get the car back to service in time. They were out of the event.
Similarly, Richie Dalton’s Ford Fiesta Proto had a fuel pressure sensor failure that left him stranded mid-stage. While his car took just five minutes to fix, his rally was done too.
Rather than crews not wanting to contest the national championship in Australia, the problem may well be the success of the state championships along the east coast of the country.
Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland – Australia’s most populous stages – are all seeing good field numbers in their state series’, and for good reason.
Crews can travel within their own state and compete on good roads, against high class competition, without the need to travel large distances for ARC rounds.
For example, round one of the ARC in Western Australia is a 4000 kilometre drive from Victoria, and even further from NSW and Queensland.
You don’t need to be Einstein to see that the time poor, or cash strapped, competitor will choose to compete locally, rather than nationally.
It’s a problem that’s not easy to solve, and one that one-day ARC rounds probably won’t fix on their own.
The championship’s next one-day event is the Eureka Rally in Victoria in mid-August. That event is also a round of the APRC, and the Victorian Rally Championship.
Entry numbers for that event are expected to be higher than they were in the National Capital Rally, yet whether more than 14 cars start the ARC component remains to be seen.
The problem won’t be fixed overnight, or next week, or perhaps even this year.
However, the Aussie authorities deserve credit for trying something different in order to get things back on track – as do the APRC organisers.
For the good of the sport, let’s hope they’re on a winner.