Plenty of upside despite no NZRC in 2020

COVID-19 restrictions may have been lifted, but the New Zealand Rally Championship remains ‘very comfortable’ with their decision to cancel the series in early May.

Championship co-ordinator, Blair Bartels, told Talk Motorsport that making a decision early, and sticking to it, had been widely applauded by competitors.

“We stand by the decision, and even though countries like Australia have a congested championship towards the end of the year, we believe we made the right call,” Bartels said.

“Organising a rally is different to running a circuit racing meeting.

“With council restrictions and applying for the closure of roads, we need a minimum of two months planning time, and currently that puts us into August.

“We believe the Australian calendar has too many events in too short a period of time, and we weren’t prepared to do that to competitors.”

The decision to cancel the New Zealand Rally Championship was made because of COVID-19, but many other considerations where taken into account.

Working through the changes in legislation at a government level was an unknown, as was the economic impact on not only businesses and the regions the rallies visit, but for competitors as well.

“Ninety-nine percent of our competitors are amateurs, and many of them run their own businesses,” Bartels explained.

“For many it was going to be a bad look to go rallying when they were laying off staff.”

Another area that makes the New Zealand cancellation different to the Australian situation is the roads used.

Most Australian rallies use forest roads that are much easier to close off. New Zealand’s stages generally require council approval, as well as the blessing of residents.

Getting these approvals was going to be difficult when the country was still in the grips of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Kiwis won’t be without rallies to compete in though. There are already events up and running, and both the North and South Islands have several rallies that will be held before the end of the year.

Headlining the list, Rally New Zealand are expected to announce a two-day ‘test event’ today, which will run on the weekend of November 14 and 15.

Saturday’s stages are expected to be held north of Auckland, while Sunday will potentially use stages on land owned by leading NZ competitor Andrew Hawkeswood, to the south of the city.

Although Rally New Zealand’s slot in the WRC was only for 2020, event organisers are already working with the WRC Promoter and the FIA to try and have the rally included in the 2021 program.

There may be no national championship for rally fans in 2020, but there’ll be no shortage of action from now onwards.

And, perhaps as a blessing in disguise, rally crews will be ready to hit the ground running at the start of 2021, for what promises to be the most anticipated season yet!

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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