Pushing into an unknown future

MotorSport New Zealand have taken some major steps to keep rallying at the forefront of local sport, with the introduction of a new rally working group.

The Coronavirus pandemic has put all sports under the microscope as budgets are cut and organisations have to re-evaluate their operations, and in many cases, re-invent themselves.

Rallying is no different. The cancellation of this year’s NZ Rally Championship has been an unfortunate consequence, but it has also given MSNZ the time to put steps in motion to protect the sport’s future.

The man at the head of the working group is Dunedin’s Roger Oakley, one of the Otago Rally’s heavy hitters, and a man with a great insight into the sport, and visions of where it should be heading.

He’ll be ably back up by Hayden Paddon (who needs no introduction), NZRC co-ordinator Blair Bartels, veteran competitor Tony McConachy, and driver/co-river and event competitor relations officer Rocky Hudson.

Together, they’ll work on a plan for how they can best position rallying for the next five years and beyond.

While there’s no doubt that they’ll all go into it with their own ideas on where they think the sport should be heading, the events of 2020 will no doubt throw some curve balls at them that are, as yet, unknown.

“The MotorSport New Zealand rally working group allows the five of us to collectively break down every aspect of the sport and see where opportunities exist,” Paddon said.

“We have a unique chance in New Zealand to lead ideas and innovation, so let’s start working now towards that.”

After the recent board level turmoil at MotorSport New Zealand, this is a good news story that puts the focus well and truly back on the sport, rather than personalities and boardroom skirmishes.

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Bryn Smith Rally Coromandel 2018

Another positive to come out of MSNZ this week was the unveiling of the first four rounds of the 2021 NZ Rally Championship.

The first four rounds are as they had been planned in 2020, with the Otago Rally opening the season, followed by Whangarei, South Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay.

Those events run over just three months, meaning that competitors will have their skates on to traverse the country and get their cars prepared and re-prepared in time.

The final two events in the six-round championship are yet to be confirmed, and may well depend on what happens with Rally New Zealand, and whether that event is included in the 2021 WRC calendar.

“We are really pleased to be able to give competitors and fans some certainty around next year’s calendar,” series co-ordinator Blair Bartels said.

“There was a lot of positive feedback about what the 2020 calendar looked like and that has helped shape the 2021 calendar.”

The new season may be nine months away, but at least teams can now start putting things in place so that they’re ready and raring to go come April next year.

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Harry Bates, Rally of the Bay

Across the ditch, rallying got back underway in Australia with the running of the Rally of the Bay in New South Wales.

Brothers Harry and Lewis Bates drove their works Toyota Yaris AP4s to a 1-2 finish as they used the rally as a warm up for September’s national championship resumption.

Whether that’s even realistic remains to be scene, however, as the second wave of COVID-19 continues its spread across parts of the country.

If the Australian Rally Championship is to get underway in Canberra in late September a lot will need to go right, and at the moment, it’s the complete opposite.

New border closures between Victoria and NSW have put professional sports in a spin, let alone amateur sports like rallying.

Clearly a lot of water needs to pass under the bridge before any clarity emerges.

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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