The organizer of the Azores Rally is targeting a European Rally Championship return in the future – but not at all costs.
The Azores had been a mainstay of the ERC since 2013 but was dropped from the 2023 calendar as WRC Promoter, the promoter of the ERC, felt the event – held on an island cut adrift of mainland Europe in the North Atlantic Ocean – was too complicated logistically to fit into its plan of a more centralized calendar.
That decision was made back in September, and left the Azores Rally with little time to find an alternative solution.
In the end it became a round of the Tour European Rally series and benefited from great international attention as Sébastien Loeb and Andreas Mikkelsen – who were both invited to the rally by the organizer – fought for the win that eventually went to Loeb.
Rui Moniz, chairman of the Azores Rally organizing committee, told DirtFish that TER was “the right option” for 2023 and he’s “very, very happy” with how this year’s event went, but he didn’t hide his desire to restore the rally to the ERC calendar going forwards.
“We have an agreement for TER for the next two years, 2024 and 2025, but our goal would be to return to the ERC,” Moniz said.
“We know that the other events probably have agreements for 2024 because when we were discussing for this year the contract would be for two years, so we could find a slot in 2025.
“Our plan would be to return that year, but a lot of things have to happen first before we are able to get back.
“Of course it has to be the intention of the promoter of ERC as well, and we have to find the correct balance between what the demands are and what we are able to offer because we are far from the European mainland, so we have to bring everybody down.
“There are some big extra costs that we must face to be able to do that, so we have to find a very nice balance between what we can benefit from the ERC and the extra demands we must face to be able to have the championship.”
Those extra demands include facilitating WRC Promoter’s All Live operation, which would massively benefit the Azores Rally in particular given it is backed by the local government which wants to show off the island to the world.
But Moniz believes the promotion it got from TER was equally valuable.
“We’ve seen a lot of interest going on with the rally, everybody somewhere was trying to find information about what’s going on so altogether we are very happy that our goal was achieved,” he said.
“Although we were not part of ERC, we found a way of maintaining the projection and the promotion of the event and that’s what we were looking for.
“Ultimately what we would like is to return to the European Rally Championship somewhere in the near future. We had to rethink our event for 2023, we had to restructure, we had to do a lot of thinking of what we would be together with our sponsors – especially the government,” Moniz added.
“This solution that we found for 2023 is very, very interesting so we really need to understand what to do in the future and what the ERC will be.
“It started very well in Portugal in Fafe this year, but it didn’t end so well last year so let’s see how it goes. Also we are understanding the impact of this year, it ended a couple of days ago the event but the buzz around it will go on for we hope a long time and in the end we have to figure out what the figures, the international promotion, will be so that we understand our investment, how did it pay?
“So far it looks very, very good, but we have to understand in a couple of months what will happen with these promotion figures going on about Azores Rally and how is the European Rally Championship, and try to find a way of making it interesting for us of course but also for the championship that we will fit into.
“Exactly what it is, we are unsure. We know that for 2024 it’s Tour European Rally series and we are very happy about it.”
Mikkelsen, who completed his fifth Azores Rally last weekend, believes the rally is worthy of a place in any high profile championship.
“Absolutely,” he told DirtFish.
“Rally Azores is one of my favorite events in the whole world because the nature is so spectacular and the organizing is great.
“It’s not so many people who have heard of Azores so when they see the footage they’re like ‘wow it’s amazing’ and you feel like you’re driving a rally inside Jurassic Park. It’s really something special.”
Asked if it was too far to travel, Mikkelsen added: “It’s a two-hour flight from Lisbon or something like that.
“The issue is that all the equipment needs to go for a boat which is gone for I’m not sure how many days but it’s not that long.
“I mean we are doing rallies in Japan, Australia, New Zealand [in the world championship] so we should be able to do something in Azores as well.”
The ERC stated it does not like to comment on potential future events when approached for comment by DirtFish.