Could Rally New Zealand replace Australia on the WRC calendar?
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Rally Australia is under pressure to retain its spot on the World Rally Championship calendar which could pave the way for New Zealand to replace it in the coming years.
The Coffs Harbour-based rally has been the final event on the WRC schedule the past couple of seasons but it struggles to attract many spectators and is an awful event for teams to get to.
Not only are teams face with a long-haul flight out to this part of the world but the remote location in northern NSW means teams face significant internal travel once they get to Australia.
This year's event drew criticism from a number of quarters.
"The good thing about this event is that it's very safe - because there are no spectators," FIA rally director Jarmo Mahonen told Motorsport.com.
"I have been against this rally being the final round of the championship. Rally Australia does a marvelous job with social media, but it's not enough.
"Let's be honest: we are a European-based sport and we need to finish the season in that time zone."
Hyundai boss Alain Penasse joined the chorus calling for a calendar change despite his driver Thierry Neuville claiming victory last weekend.
"Yes, we have seen more people coming into the service park, but still it's a long way away [from the numbers needed]," Penasse told Motorsport.com.
"Twenty years ago Rally Australia was the best event in the world. Garry Connelly [then rally director] brought us the first ever super special and so many innovations in Perth.
"Why can't we go back to Perth? It's closer to Europe and it's a city with 1.5 million people. I don't know how many people live in Coffs Harbour, but it's not that many."
Rally Australia organisers said a Perth-based event would be difficult because of the travel time needed to get to stages away from the city centre while moving the event to Sydney would also provide significant challenges.
Rally New Zealand unsuccessfully lobbied to get a spot on the 2018 calendar despite having a strong bid with enough financial backing.
Bid boss Peter Johnston confirmed to The Herald that their plan is to push for inclusion for 2019 and that the best chance of getting a spot on the calendar would come at the cost of Australia.
"All the criticism in that article is correct," he said. "If it weren't for Kiwi spectators going over for it then the crowds would be half as small again.
"We would get 30,000 spectators a day out on stages.
"Our rally is far more accessible – Coffs Harbour is a five-hour drive inland.
"We have the roads and the teams and drivers love coming here.
"I've always said we should be alternating every couple of years with Australia. It would keep the event fresh."
Australia is confirmed on the 2018 calendar but Johnston said he would begin talks with the WRC promoter about inclusion on the 2019 calendar shortly.
A domestic version of Rally New Zealand takes place based out of Tauranga over the weekend.
- NZ Herald