Nature abhors a vacuum

Sanctioning and organising bodies with New Zealand championships in their portfolios appear to be risking ‘outlaw’ series taking over their positions unless they move swiftly to sort out their plans for post-Covid 19 recovery.

As the New Zealand Rally Championship confirms cancellation of the 2020 series lock, stock and barrel, MotorSport New Zealand’s General Manager of Motorsport, Elton Goonan says looking beyond Covid-19 is key for the strength of the sport moving out of the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has had a massive impact on everything globally, including motorsport and sadly the NZRC,” said Goonan.

“Like all sports, we have a responsibility to look out for not only the health and safety of our people but also the viability and health of the sport itself.

“We’re confident this is the right decision for the NZRC and we look forward to a strong 2021 Championship. Our sport and our people are resilient and we will come through the other side of this.”

Event cancellation is not just a national issue.

In the USA, NASCAR is struggling to sort out its 2021 dates thanks to the ongoing uncertainty around Covid in that country. The Indycar series is on hold and the classic Indy 500 has been put back this year to August, meaning multiple champion Scott Dixon is waiting to resume his campaign for another series title and – hopefully – another Indy 500 win.

In Japan, the two big championships are vaguely hoping to be back on track at the end of June; this affects Kiwi Nick Cassidy’s aspirations.

Italian Formula four series winner, European F3 and FIA F3 multiple race winner and current FIA Formula 2 winner Marcus Armstrong is preparing to return to the fray ready to book travel back to his Maranello base ahead of a ‘pencilled’ start for F1 and F2 at the Red Bull Ring in July.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and there are various rumours circling that point to ‘outlaw’ series stepping into the closing months of this year. In New Zealand, the cancellation of championships across several codes leaves drivers and teams with fresh built vehicles and nowhere to use them. For those with sponsors and formalised budgets, this becomes a contractual issue.

Dylan Turner Rally Hawke’s Bay 2013

AASA investigates filling the rally gap

Last week’s news of the cancellation of the New Zealand Rally Championship marks the first time gravel motorsport has taken such drastic hit since the ‘oil shock’ years of the mid 1970s.

With individual events following on to announce cancellations, rally competitors have found themselves with no competition events at all in a year only half done.

Hard on the heels of the news, however, comes what could only be described as a very firm rumour that another event permitting body – the Australian Auto Sport Alliance (AASA) – is looking at options for a three-rally series that would fill the gap.

The series would be held in late 2020 to ensure all Covid 19 health and safety requirements can be observed. It would also give teams time to budget and book accommodation for the three North Island events.

Though the series would not run under a MotorSport New Zealand event permit, the parallel nature of the sanctioning organisation means participation will in no way compromise MSNZ membership going forward.

Expressions of interest are being invited from drivers keen on the idea.

Emilien Denner leads the 2020 Castrol TRS field at Teretonga

Motor racing’s premier series dates yet to be confirmed

Meanwhile the motor racing world’s situation is only marginally better. Dates and venues for the premier summer series are not usually confirmed by May, but are always known by ‘those who need to know’ and then confirmed after the MSNZ annual general meeting, which was cancelled along with award functions. This year, there are ‘pencilled’ dates only, with as yet no details of the classes to race at each round. More to the point, homing in on the event calendar on MSNZ’s website shows only placeholders in the key weekends – the core premier rounds start with ‘Wellington’ on January 23 and 24, organised by Motorsport New Zealand. That is apparently followed by another MSNZ-organised round the following weekend, also in Wellington! According to the calendar, the Speedworks summer series spends the same period at ‘Waikato’ – run by the Speedworks Motorsport Club Inc.

There are also the tail-end rounds of the 2020 championships to deal with.

Should drivers plan accordingly, or sit tight and wait?

No doubt the premier rounds will deliver sensational racing with the TA2 and TCR categories set to join the Castrol Toyota Racing Series at those events.

Expectation now rests on the organisers to firm up details so teams can make preparations and sort budgets for the series and especially the five-week core rounds that culminate in February with the New Zealand Grand Prix. It is probably fair to also expect that the website will update to some more accurate information some time before June.

In general, the sport seems to have pulled away from using electronic media channels to inform race fans here and overseas about our scene. The last news item on series organiser Speedworks ‘ website is dated February 2019 and is a pre-2019 Grand Prix qualifying story.

Likewise Toyota GAZOO Racing’s site has no information about the next Castrol Toyota Racing Series or Toyotas 86 Championship; the company can hardly talk dates when none have been confirmed by Speedworks or MotorSport NZ. Instead there’s a profile story on Nick Cassidy. It’s a good story on one of the best New Zealand drivers of the modern era. but perhaps people with time on their hands and race fuel coursing in their veins would appreciate an update on the coming summer race season.

Mark Baker

Mark Baker has been working in automotive PR and communications for more than two decades. For much longer than that he has been a motorsport journalist, photographer and competitor, witness to most of the most exciting and significant motorsport trends and events of the mid-late 20th Century. His earliest memories of motorsport were trips to races at Ohakea in the early 1960s, and later of annual summer pilgrimages to watch Shellsport racers and Mini 7s at Bay Park and winter sorties into forests around Kawerau and Rotorua to see the likes of Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen and Mike Marshall ply their trade in group 4 Escorts. Together with Murray Taylor and TV producer/director Dave Hedge he has been responsible for helping to build New Zealand’s unique Toyota Racing Series into a globally recognized event brand under category managers Barrie and Louise Thomlinson. Now working for a variety of automotive and mainstream commercial clients, Mark has a unique perspective on recent motor racing history and the future career paths of our best and brightest young racers.

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