Rally NZ denies 2020 cancellation would end WRC hopes

Organizers insist it's not '2020 or never' for New Zealand's WRC return amid coronavirus cancellation fears

Sebastien Ogier Citroën Rally New Zealand 2012 WRC

Rally New Zealand officials have been quick to dispel speculation that losing their September event to coronavirus could mean it never got back into the World Rally Championship

While the rally remains more than four months away, New Zealand’s firm response to COVID-19 has led some in the series to question whether the WRC would be allowed into the country even in September.

New Zealand remains in lockdown at present and any visitors are quarantined for two weeks before they’re allowed into the community.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s policy of “go hard and go early” has limited deaths to just 13 people so far.

Rally New Zealand CEO Michael Goldstein said the event would keep working towards September and bringing the WRC back to the country for the first time since 2012.

“Rally New Zealand is continuing to prepare to host a leg of the World Rally Championships in Auckland in September,” Goldstein told DirtFish.

“Of course there is currently major global uncertainty affecting everyone, including the 2020 World Rally Championship.

“Over the coming weeks we will continue to liaise closely with local and central government agencies as well as the WRC Promoter and the FIA.”

Goldstein hotly denied talk that funding and logistical support for Rally NZ’s return was a case of 2020 or never.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Funding has been committed to hold the event on a one-off basis and September 2021 does not clash with America’s Cup.”

The America’s Cup yacht race returns to Auckland in March 2021.

New Zealand is included in this year’s calendar at the expense of Rally Australia, which is expected to use this season out of the WRC to find a new base away from Coffs Harbour. The New South Wales city has fallen from favour with WRC Promoter in recent years.

Rally Australia service park 2019 WRC drivers and firefighters

WRC crews meet firefighters ahead of the abandoned Rally Australia last year (Image: Hyundai)

Last year’s Rally Australia was cancelled due to the bush fires that rampaged through the country.

The loss of that event and Australia not being included for 2020 has come as a blow to one of the most commercially astute rounds of the series.

Since last year, Rally Australia has closed its Coffs Harbour office and moved everything down to Motorsport Australia’s Melbourne base.

While there was some movement behind a Bathurst-based Rally Australia through the closed season, sources close to the event admit there have been few developments in recent months.