Tauranga steps closer to the World Rally Championship
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Tauranga has taken a big step towards featuring on the world motorsport map after Baypark won selection as the base for the final round of the New Zealand Rally Championship.
The country's best rally drivers, including World Rally Championship driver Hayden Paddon, will start and finish at Baypark for the two-day round in November that will double as Rally New Zealand.
Rally New Zealand, with its own trophy, is one of two rallies on the shortlist for an expanded world championship.
Baypark's selection as the base for the sixth and final round was welcomed by Gary Dawson, the chief executive of council-controlled Bay Venues.
''It would be huge for Tauranga and our international exposure if the World Rally Championship came here.''
Mr Dawson said the two-day rally on November 25-26 would be a good test run for an international round. ''Baypark is an ideal venue. We have a huge pit area and we are totally geared up for motorsport.''
The selection of Baypark as the base for the final round was announced by the promoter of the national championship, Simon Bell.
He was unable to specify where the Rally New Zealand stages would be run until the sport's international governing body had decided if the World Rally Championship would return to New Zealand in 2018.
Mr Bell said if New Zealand were chosen it would affect where the Rally NZ stages were raced this year. The sixth round would then become the dry run for the world event. There were different route criteria for national and international rally events.
He said it came down to the promoter of the world circuit and what New Zealand could offer the event. ''We are very positive it will happen.''
Mr Bell said the world championship was like selling a product. ''It is a business and it is looking for audiences.''
One advantage of Baypark as a base for a world championship round was its proximity to the Port of Tauranga where the cars would be unloaded.
Mr Bell said the national rally's organising team was looking at the Raglan/Waikato area for one of the two days, with the other day potentially being run in the Bay of Plenty.
Tauranga rally driver Phil Campbell said the selection of Baypark as the base and the potential for a national championship stage to be raced close to the city was an exciting prospect.
His team had spent eight years going to other centres to race and it would be so much easier to have one of the rounds based in Tauranga. ''Having Baypark as a base is pretty cool.''
Rally New Zealand has not been on the World Rally Championship calendar since 2012. The other rally on the shortlist for an expanded world championship was Rally Croatia, with overseas news reports saying the final decision was set to be made by the FIA Motorsport Council in late September.
-Bay of Plenty Times