Tauranga Rally still a trial run for NZ WRC round
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Tauranga will remain the base for the revival of Rally of New Zealand later this year even though chances of the country securing a place on the World Rally Championship calendar in 2018 appear to have faded.
A 2017 Rally of New Zealand was originally planned as a World Rally Championship (WRC) candidate rally to run one week after the final WRC round of the year in Australia.
The Tauranga-based event will run as the national championship finale over the November 24 to 26 weekend.
It will retain the format that had been planned as a shakedown for New Zealand's hopes of returning to the world series in 2018 and with Kiwi WRC star Hayden Paddon as the main attraction.
But Rally New Zealand organisers said last week they now thought it unlikely the event would return to the WRC calendar next year.
Rally New Zealand spokesman Peter Johnston said the latest discussions with the FIA and the World Rally Championship Promoter suggested expanding the 2018 championship for a new event outside Europe would prove too challenging because of commercial considerations.
Johnston said his organisation was disappointed but would not give up on their long-term goal of returning Rally New Zealand to the WRC calendar.
"There is still a small chance that we could be included on the 2018 calendar, but at this stage the WRC Promoter has said that the costs to venture to New Zealand are a major hurdle," Johnston said.
"We are certainly pushing hard still for 2019."
The 2018 WRC calendar is expected to be announced next week after Rally Germany. Signals are that Poland will be dropped because of spectator safety issues at this year's event and there is the possibility of expansion from 13 to 14 events with the addition of Turkey and Croatia but no scope for another event outside of Europe.
This year's Rally New Zealand will start and finish in Tauranga and is the final round of the New Zealand Rally Championship.
"The only thing it [not being a shakedown for a 2018 WRC round] will change is the scale of the event," NZ Rally Championship co-ordinator Blair Read told Driven.
"We are still planning a two-day rally with the first day going into the Waikato, including the Raglan stages. On Sunday the rally is based at Baypark with stages to the south of Tauranga and also near Rotorua.
"The level of interest remains high with Hayden Paddon confirmed while early indications are there could be three Japanese teams and two from Australia and there have been a couple of inquiries from Europe.
"There are still plans to have a Friday evening ceremonial start but it won't have all the big festivities and fireworks of a WRC event. But the rally will be a Rally New Zealand standard of event," said Read.
By running the event this November the Rally of New Zealand organisers will confirm to the FIA and WRC Promoter that it has a viable rally ready to be included in the world championship whenever the opportunity arises.
New Zealand first hosted a round of the FIA World Rally Championship in 1977 and has been part of the world championship on 31 occasions with a reputation for providing some of the best gravel road stages in the sport.
The most recent world championship event in New Zealand was staged in 2012.