Tauranga in pole WRC position
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TAURANGA sits in pole position to host a return of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) to New Zealand roads, perhaps as soon as 2018.
Negotiations involving Rally New Zealand, the Tauranga City Council and the WRC promoter were under way exploring the chances of New Zealand regaining a place on the world championship calendar.
There were hopes the event would bring large numbers of supporters to Tauranga, raise the region's profile to would-be visitors and pump millions into the economy.
Rally New Zealand chairman Peter Johnston confirmed that Tauranga was the frontrunner to host a New Zealand round of the world championship. He said the 2018 season was the earliest possible date for the WRC to return here.
"Tauranga is our first preference but nothing will be decided for at least another six months," he said.
Tauranga is set to host a two-day national series final round in 2017 — with a provisional date set in November.
The national event will be called Rally New Zealand — reviving the title for the first time since 2012 when the WRC made its most recent visit to New Zealand.
Next year's national rally was effectively a trial run to ensure a proven event was in place, if the WRC bid was successful.
WRC officials were visiting New Zealand this week, immediately after attending Rally Australia last weekend, for a preliminary check of the infrastructure needed to run a world championship event.
Tourism Bay of Plenty's Kathrin Low said international events attracted a large number of supporters, family and friends and consequently the region reaped positive economic benefits.
"We've seen the benefits of hosting RWC [Rugby World Cup] in New Zealand. The games were broadcast around the world and the media reported constantly while here. If the World Rally Championship was to be hosted locally, we would receive international coverage and exposure."
Tauranga City Council sponsorship and leverage manager Sarah Lewis said the council was committed to working with Rally NZ, should the global promoters decide to host a round here.
"[Events] help create opportunities for businesses and residents alike by bringing more visitors and activity to the city year-round. This brings positive economic benefits and helps create a vibrant and exciting city. "
The 2017 New Zealand Championship event in Tauranga would be the final of a six-round national series and was slated for the weekend of November 25-26. The timing was one week after the provisional date for WRC Rally Australia next year.
NZ Rally Championship co-ordinator Blair Read said the date had been chosen to allow Hayden Paddon to compete in his New Zealand-based Hyundai AP4 car.
The 2017 rally would feature a long day of gravel special stages across the Waikato with a shorter day closer to Tauranga and possibly near Rotorua.
He said Mount Maunganui's Baypark stadium would be the rally headquarters and service park with potentially a competitive super special stage at the stadium.
"Part of the 2017 event will be an anniversary celebration of 50 years of rallying in New Zealand," Mr Read said. More plans would be announced in the middle of next month.