www.velocitynews.co.nz | Simon Chapman
Since the FIA World Rally Championship left New Zealand’s shores in 2012, rumours have long swirled that the series would one day return.
Finally, in 2020, the circus will come back in what is currently a one-off journey for the top-flight rally championship.
Until now, the championship could only go to so many countries, meaning some had to go before New Zealand could come back.
The 2020 season will see the return of New Zealand alongside Rally Japan and the highly anticipated Safari Rally in Kenya. Spain, France and Australia are omitted at the expense of the returning rallies in what is still a 14-round calendar.
WRC Promoter Managing Director Oliver Ciesla spoke with velocitynews.co.nz about the persistent effort from Rally New Zealand organiser to berth another opportunity.
“I have to make my compliments to the organizing team of Rally New Zealand led by Peter Johnston (Rally New Zealand Chairman) and Michael Goldstein (Rally New Zealand CEO),” Ciesla said.
“They really never stopped pushing us and permanently played their cards and made us aware there is an opportunity in New Zealand waiting for the WRC.
“At the same time, it wasn’t that you were not running into open doors, for us, coming to New Zealand remained always a great opportunity. We could not increase the number of events, so the only chance to come here was to replace another rally, which also has difficulties.
“I think this was the limbo in which we were finding ourselves. For many reasons this opportunity, for at least one year, came up.
“All the pieces fell in the right place and here we are. Everyone is quite positive and working hard on making the best rally that has ever happened on New Zealand ground next year.”
When asked about the ongoing rumours over the years, Michael Goldstein detailed when the discussions began with Ciesla about Rally New Zealand’s return becoming a “serious” prospect.
“We met Oliver in 2015 at Rally Australia, before then, I don’t know how much of a priority it was because there was a three-year deal with Australia,” he said.
“We started the conversation then. We hosted Oliver and Simon Larkin (WRC Promoter Event Director) down here in 2016.
“I think the conversation then was relatively serious, but this year has been completely different. We’ve been working very closely with these guys for a year.
“There’s always been this opportunity for the WRC to hold it here on a one-off basis for the last year. Credit to these guys, they said there’s an opportunity here to be seen as a joker round, to mix the championship up on a one-off basis.
“We had that conversation a year ago at the [WRC] gala dinner literally 365 days ago. We’ve worked towards it since then. It’s been different this year certainly compared to the other ones.”
The inclusion of Rally New Zealand to the FIA World Rally Championship has Ciesla excited. Most poignant for him is the history of the event.
From the late 1970s to 2010, Rally New Zealand was a staple of the calendar. A year-on-year-off deal with Rally Australia didn’t last long and the championship left without return after 2012.
Despite the elongated absence, Ciesla said he’s confident the rally will be the biggest in the event’s storied history.
“There are several points that make New Zealand special for the WRC. First of all, for the fans, this is a well-known event. After so many years New Zealand was hosting good rally championship events. So coming back to a place that used to be already a great host is always positive.
“From a sporting point of view, driving on New Zealand roads must be a very special experience for a rally driver. To bring that opportunity back to our athletes is very important for us.
“Even though it does not happen every year, occasionally we want to allow our young talent and older drivers to experience that. It is great for us as a promoter to show the diversity of our sport.
“I think the benefit of rallying, especially on the championship level, is that we do not show the circuit from the inside, we can show the beauty of a country and our sport embedded in a very exciting backdrop.
“Coming here to show a postcard picture beauty of the coast in New Zealand, it just adds value to our championship. It is just great.
“It is important to play our sport in an environment where it is appreciated. The response of the fans, the knowledge from the fans of the sport is of value. It’s great to bring the sport back to a region where it is so highly appreciated.
“Not only does the WRC bring a benefit to New Zealand, but New Zealand brings a benefit to the WRC.