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May 17, 2010 | by  | in Opinion |
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The reverse sweep

The future of New Zealand’s role in the World Rally Championship is in jeopardy, following the release of the 2011 schedule. The distinctive lack of a Rally New Zealand carries the concern that the recent 2010 event may have been the last. While the 2009 event was “gut-wrenchingly” cancelled due to the economic climate, it was hoped the re-inclusion would be more permanent. However, next year’s exclusion—due to date clashes with the Rugby World Cup, as well as apparent failures to meet promotional objectives—has also put the rally’s future beyond 2011 in doubt. The decision has come not without discontent, with Kiwi fans and drivers alike left feeling disappointed.

Rally NZ has hosted rally greats aplenty, with the likes of off-road legend Carlos Sainz, the late great Scot Colin McRae, six-time defending WRC champion Sebastien Loeb and four-time winner Marcos Gronholm enjoying their share of success. The rally has also been a breeding ground for Kiwi racing prodigies, and there’s no better an example than 23-year-old national champion Hayden Paddon’s triumph in the production class of this year’s edition.

Rally NZ originated from the 1969 Shell Silver Fern Rally, and was first included as a round of the WRC in 1977. In the process, New Zealand has become the home of the longest-running world championship event in the Southern Hemisphere. Such history is one of the major reasons for dejection at the pending exclusion(s).

Moreover, word is that it is likely most of the 2011 calendar will remain the same in 2012. It is the word “most” which is giving organising chairman Chris Carr hope. In addition, John Key has not ruled out stepping in to save next year’s rally; although he remains non-committal, due to the alleged $750k pricetag.

The drivers are certainly among the avid supporters of the rally, with the likes of Loeb and this year’s rally victor Jari-Matti Latvala professing their admiration for the picturesque and vehicle-friendly nature of the stages. Latvala’s Finnish countryman Mikko Hirvonen also endorsed the “fast, smooth, fun” rally as one of his favourites. He also, however, pointed out the economic reality of the rally—New Zealand not being a big market for car manufacturers.

In essence, if it were up to the drivers, Rally NZ would be a permanent fixture on the WRC calendar. However, the governing body has the ultimate say—so here’s hoping the history and support of our world-class rally is enough to keep it in the picture.     

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