Drive for the WRC to return to New Zealand gets big support
Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key was among the speakers at Saturday night's Legends of Speed event at Auckland's Vector Arena — taking his opportunity to speak to acknowledge and support the recent drive to bring the World Rally Championship back to New Zealand's shores.
Speaking further, Key underlined that the event is on his agenda — and is one that he is in support of. He also confirmed that one-on-one discussions between himself and Kiwi Hyundai Motorsport pilot Hayden Paddon have already taken place.
“If you think about the worldwide audience of rallying touches and what we're trying to do with New Zealand Major Events, which is to promote New Zealand, you at least have got to say that there's a credible case for them [Rally New Zealand] to apply for money and see how they go,” said Key.
“In theory there's a range of things that we can potentially do. That was part of the reason [Paddon] came to see me — to basically put it on our radar screen I suppose.
“The first thing we try and do is make sure that it's as independent as it can be. Because we try and have an independent group that will make those decisions.”
Key drew comparisons between rallying and golf, in regards to both sports' pursuit of government support to secure international events in New Zealand.
“Realistically, there's a lot of different criteria there — [including] what is likely to be the worldwide reach of what you're doing. And that's one of the reasons why golf's had money, because it gets a big audience from people that watch it.
“World rallying is the same — they probably get 100 million people at some of these events. So it's huge numbers.”
Key was quick to affirm his appreciation for New Zealand's motorsport sector, having spent the night listening to a variety of other speakers from a variety of different eras in the sport — labelling the night “unbelievable”.
“I had the opportunity to sit with Scott Dixon, which was remarkable. He's just a fantastic athlete, and what it shows is that these guys [do] — they're not just driving cars. It's keeping up your peak level of fitness,” he said.
“I think if you just look at just the legends of speed that they had up there tonight, you can see the breadth and depth of New Zealand driving — not obviously just rallying, [but] across a whole range of different categories.
“It's sort of been the secret of New Zealand's success really; the capacity to deliver a lot of drivers in a world where fundamentally it takes a lot of cash, and we don't always have the sponsorship to support them.
“It just shows you that they're getting there almost in spite of their ability to not be funded in the way that you expect other drivers to be funded.”
Among the other speakers at the event was World Rally Championship Managing Director and promoter Oliver Ciesla. He spoke of his desire to bring back Rally New Zealand, as well as the financial barriers that need to be crossed before it can become a reality.
“This is why I'm optimistic and would love to say yes sooner or later — I understand if my English is good enough that there is a strong commitment also from the Prime Minister and the people here,” Ciesla said, in reaction to Key's initial speech.
“All of you in the room will know that hosting a rally on the world-championship level in New Zealand ticks many many boxes. The good thing is that the rally also brings a lot of benefits to the host cities.
“Most of the events today are funded to at least half of their budget by the public hand. So this is what we have to talk about.”
The Rally New Zealand title will once again be up for grabs next season when it becomes part of the 2017 Brian Grean Property Group New Zealand Rally Championship calendar — organizers hoping to use the event to test the waters for a 2018 WRC return.