Rally dates confirmed

By David Thomson on Sat, 30 Sep 2017

Two important rallying calendars for 2018 have now been confirmed, and there's good and bad news for Kiwi fans.

The good news comes with the April 13-15 slot allocated to Otago Rally. The event will comprise, once again, the opening round of the New Zealand Rally Championship, as well as incorporating the International Otago Classic Rally, and an Allcomers event for cars and crews that do not meet the national or classic criteria.

The most important point about the April date is that it falls neatly between the Corsica and Argentine rounds of the World Rally Championship. This maximises the chances of Kiwi WRC ace Hayden Paddon being able to contest the event as he managed to in 2016, and perhaps even raises the possibility of one or two other high-profile international drivers attending.

The Otago Rally will begin with its traditional ceremonial start in the Octagon on the Friday night. About 270km of high-speed special stages are planned for the following two days, including the popular Whare Flat, Waipori Gorge and Kuri Bush stages. However, forestry stages aren't going to feature as heavily in next year's route as they did this year, with just 10% of the route to run in the forests.

The bad news, which was expected, is that New Zealand's failure to secure a world rally championship round of its own has been confirmed. Instead of New Zealand, it is Turkey that gets the nod to replace Poland (dropped after safety concerns this year) on a 13-round championship schedule.

No amount of Kiwi grizzling on social media (and there has been some) is going to change the calendar: we have to understand that Turkey is logistically convenient for the WRC teams - all of which are based in Europe - and a substantial base of vehicle production, as well as a large market for new-car sales, while New Zealand, despite having roads the drivers love, is a costly destination to get to and, in global terms, a very small car market.

That said, I share the disappointment of fellow fans: it's now five years since New Zealand last hosted the WRC and, with every year that passes, I fear our chances of returning diminish further. On the other hand, Turkey is back in the championship for 2018 after an eight-year hiatus, so perhaps I am being overly pessimistic.

At least we will only have to travel across the Tasman to see the WRC in 2018. The Coff's Harbour-based Rally Australia has its same mid-November time slot as this year, running as the season finale.

While on the subject of WRC, this year's championship resumes next weekend in Spain. With Paddon having been dropped by Hyundai for this event, my interest in it in minimal. I may just boycott it as a matter of principle.

David Thomson