World Rally Championship could return to NZ as soon as next year
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The door is open for the return of the World Rally Championship to New Zealand gravel roads in 2020.
It has emerged the championship is unlikely to return to the Coffs Harbour venue in Australia after the final round of this year’s championship in November.
Rally New Zealand officials have moved quickly to position its event as a potential replacement if an Australian event can’t be organised in 2020.
"Basically the WRC promoter has asked Australia to come up with a new venue but that’s easier said than done," said Rally New Zealand chairman Peter Johnston.
"That opens the opportunity for New Zealand to have it for a year and the WRC have come back to us about possibly running an event in September 2020."
There has been concern from the WRC manufacturer teams and championship promoter about the lack of spectator support at Coffs Harbour and the costly logistics of running the event in the small coastal city.
To continue in Australia the WRC will need to find another New South Wales venue that meets the requirements of the teams and fits with the promotional objectives of Destination NSW which provides much of the funding for the rally. Or move to another state where new funding can be secured.
Negotiations to find a new venue in Australia could be lengthy, creating an opportunity for New Zealand to host a WRC event for the first time since 2012.
"The big thing is we need a whole load of funding," said Johnston.
"ATEED [the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development agency] want the event in Auckland and have come up with a good support package and we’re in discussions with government. We also need a naming rights sponsor."
Johnston says running the event and finding roads is the easiest part but the timeframe is tight.
"I think we have about six weeks to make something happen. It has to stack up commercially, we won’t do it without it being funded properly."
It’s expected a New Zealand WRC event would be a one-off for 2020.
"We’re not really in a position to run Rally New Zealand every year and the reality is 2021 is out of the question because of the Americas Cup," he said.
New Zealand last hosted a WRC event in 2012 and the most recent bid for a championship return came in 2017 when plans were being put in place for a 2018 event. That effort was focused on Tauranga as the host city and a two-day version of Rally New Zealand was based there as the final round of the New Zealand Championship in preparation for the WRC event.
"We put a lot of work into that and had a great relationship with Tauranga. I think we had a strong case but in the end we got turned down [by the WRC promoter] for 2018," said Johnston.
The World Rally Championship is an expansion phase with the 2019 calendar increasing to 14 events when it visits Chile for the first time next month while Japan is expected to rejoin the series in 2020.