The World Rally Championship will not be heading to New Zealand next year, says Rally NZ Chairman Peter Johnston.
Instead, event promoters are in active talks with the WRC to keep the event on the series radar, targeting a return as soon as the 2022 season.
The WRC unveiled a published 2021 season calendar late last week. The schedule has only three events outside Europe with both New Zealand and Australia dropped.
After the announcement that this year’s long-awaited return of the WRC was canned amid the global pandemic, Rally New Zealand organisers had hoped that the championship would respect the preparation and costs that had been sunken into the 2020 event by including NZ on the 2021 calendar.
However, Johnston confirmed today that Rally NZ organisers realised that the world is still fragile from the pandemic and he and his team felt a WRC next year was too soon.
“Look, we are actively in discussion with the WRC promoter about an event in 2022,” Johnston told Velocity News.
“We looked at the possibility of being on the 2021 calendar, but we couldn’t see it happening. We kind of knew Australia weren’t likely to feature on the calendar also and, overall, we just felt that a New Zealand rally in 2021 was just too soon.
“The world needs to heal, and we don’t see the international borders opening up for at least eight months. If we were to have run in 2021 then we would have brought in around 5000 international visitors. So, we made a call that it was unrealistic to go ahead in 2021 because of the government restrictions.”
After an eight-year absence, Rally NZ effectively replaced Rally Australia on the 2020 calendar. The Coffs Harbour Rally in New South Wales was then welcomed back onto the pre-Covid draft 2021 calendar.
But despite the dumping of both New Zealand and Australia for next year, Johnston says he sees no reason why the two events cannot feature together on the 2022 schedule.
“We are very confident that we can get the WRC back in 2022. Nothing is signed yet, but our sponsors have stuck with us, and together we are all going for the year.
“We see only about three offshore [outside Europe] events happening again in 2022 so there is no reason why we and Australia can’t be on that calendar together.”
In place of the 2020 event, Rally NZ will run an Auckland-based rally which features several high-profile Kiwi names such as Hayden Paddon and Shane van Gisbergen.
Held over November 14-15, the first day will be the City of Auckland Rally and will feature some of the stages that were set to be used during the WRC return.
The final day will see sixty competitors compete on the newly-built Jack’s Ridge super stage on the property of Kiwi rally driver Andrew Hawkeswood.
Johnston said the rally would showcase to the world why New Zealand should return to the WRC calendar with plans of a global post-production TV programme.
“We were gutted to have to cancel the 2020 event. We spent a lot of money on building up the event and all the infrastructure. That is why we have decided to have the upcoming City of Auckland Rally and Battle of Jack’s Ridge.
“We see these as our substitutes for the 2020 event, and it’s going to be big. It will be live on TV in New Zealand through Sky Sport, and there will also be a post-production global television package.
“It is turning out to be a huge event. We were over-subscribed with entries. We had over 100 entries for the Battle of Jack’s Ridge sprint but we could only accept 60. If the event turns out to be a success then of course we will look to have it return next year.”
The next event on the 2020 WRC calendar is Rally Belgium on November 20-22.