Why Germany couldn’t save its 2020 WRC round

ADAC was up against it to keep Saarland on the WRC calendar

Jari-Matti Latvala

Suspicions about Rally Germany’s cancellation had been swirling for a while now. On Monday night, news leaked from Germany’s motorsport body ADAC that the event was a goner. On Wednesday, we received official confirmation: the World Rally Championship would have to do without Saarland this year.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying by the rally organizers. Complications first emerged back in June, when German chancellor Angela Merkel extended a ban on large gatherings into October. With Rally Germany set to take place on August 15-18, the writing was on the wall.

Three days later, the first reaction came in from the organizers. They weren’t giving up.

“Managers at ADAC Rallye Deutschland have been working with the authorities to decide what measures would need to be put in place to ensure that the round of the World Championship scheduled for 15th-18th October 2020 can go ahead in the presence of spectators,” read the statement.

That last word was the key factor. Spectators. Rally Germany needed them there for the event to be viable. Tickets for the 2020 edition had gone on sale way back in November 2019, before the world had added the dreaded phrase ‘COVID-19’ to its lexicon.

The solution was pragmatic but necessary: chop out all the iconic vineyard stages and runs through Saarland’s countryside, and have the rally take place entirely within the Baumholder military zone over two days.

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While Baumholder’s 12,000 hectares are expansive, a self-contained military area was the rally’s best shot at policing spectators; whether that’s making sure the ticket revenue came in, or stopping anyone from breaking into areas they shouldn’t be.

Having a route that relied almost entirely on the iconic Panzerplatte stage, while far from ideal, would still have captured the magic of Rally Germany, with the broken concrete and hinkelstein-laden roads usually delivering the most drama.

Ultimately this plan failed too. Discussions with regional authorities didn’t pan out as hoped. No exceptions were handed out so rally organizers were limited to having 350 people on event – including the drivers, teams and rally personnel – leaving no room for spectators.

The rally could have gone ahead behind closed doors, but at what cost? ADAC also has a Formula 1 race to run this year at the Nürburgring, also behind closed doors. Running both with no spectator revenue would have been fiscally irresponsible.

Germany’s not set to be back on the WRC schedule next year either, as its slot on the calendar is rotating with fellow asphalt event Spain. Hopefully this decision means we’ll be back in the vineyards of Mosel in 2022 instead, and spectators can watch on as the new generation of WRC cars dodge the hinkelsteins on Panzerplatte.