Battle of Jacks Ridge

Major Driver Announcement – Jack Hawkeswood

The event and location are named in his honour but Jack Hawkeswood is playing down talk he will be the man to beat at the Battle of Jacks Ridge in November.

Jack’s father – 2017 national rally champion Andrew Hawkeswood – and his wife named the Whitford farm after their son Jack and have developed a world class special stage on farmland in the middle of the Auckland region and within minutes of the CBD.

It was set to house the World Rally Championship when it returned to New Zealand for the first time since 2012 but COVID-19 forced that event to be cancelled.

That gave birth to the idea of the Battle of Jacks Ridge, which will see competitors use 3km of the 6km-long stage in rally sprint format on Sunday November 15.

Aside from a couple of media days the stage hasn’t been used so most competitors will be arriving at the event having to get to know the layout.

That has prompted many to label Jack Hawkeswood as the driver to beat because he will know the circuit better than most.

“The only areas I have really driven on are the bits we’ve used for the media days,” Hawkeswood said. “I haven’t actually done a full lap of the rally stage let alone the rally sprint stage.

“I will definitely be doing bits of it but it is really going to come down to how far we get actually finishing off the track and I will do a few laps of it so we can make sure the track is going to work alright.

“I don’t think I will have too much of an advantage over anyone else.”

Jack Hawekswood
Photo copyright Geoff Ridder

The Hawkeswoods bought the property about seven or eight years ago and immediately had the idea of constructing a rally stage on it.

“At our old farm we had a speedway track around the back paddock,” Jack explained. “It has always been a dream of the old man’s – to have a purpose built stage right there.

“If you want to go testing in your rally car you have to go all the way down to Maramarua because there is nothing really around here.

“It was something he really wanted to do.

“it was solely designed around spectators. It is the sort of place where you can be there all day and not miss out on any action.

“Another big factor is we didn’t want to make it a big highway. We wanted to make a stage that had real consequences for drivers.”

And while Jack has committed to entering the event father Andrew has yet to confirm whether he will be driving as well although it seems impossible to think he could withstand the badgering from his son for the next couple of months without committing to taking on his son.

“It would be rude if he didn’t come out really, Jack laughed.

“I would say he would be trying to put tacks in front of my car or he might hit it with a spanner or something before the start of the stage or something.

“It would be awesome to have the old man come out. We have a good rivalry going on there.”

The Battle of Jacks Ridge will take place on Sunday November 15 with live coverage on Sky Sport.

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Battle of Jacks Ridge

Major Driver Announcement – Hayden Paddon

New Zealand’s leading rally driver Hayden Paddon is the first entry into the November 15 Battle of Jacks Ridge rally sprint.
The World Rally Championship star has confirmed his participation in the event, which will be broadcast live on Sky Sport and is likely to attract the strongest field ever assembled for a domestic rally.

The 33-year-old, who became the first Kiwi and first driver from the southern hemisphere to win a world championship event in Argentina in 2016, will tackle the 3km-long rally sprint stage at the purpose built Jacks Ridge facility on former national champion Andrew Hawkeswood’s property in his Hyundai i20 AP4.

The full 6km-long Jacks Ridge stage, located 20 minutes from the Auckland CBD in Whitford, was set to be a feature of Rally New Zealand 2020 when the WRC returned for the first time since 2012 before COVID-19 forced the event’s cancellation.

With spectacular spectator viewing, a challenging but exciting layout and the backdrop of Auckland City and the Hauraki Gulf the Jacks Ridge stage needed to be used elsewhere and hence the idea of the Battle of Jacks Ridge came about.

“This is going an amazing event and one I am really looking forward to,” Paddon said. “Andrew has done an amazing job constructing a world class rally stage that will be a real test for drivers while giving spectators an amazing show.

“There are some technical bits that will put drivers to the test while the jumps will take some serious commitment and will be spectacular to watch.”

Paddon will contest the City of Auckland Rally, using stages in the Auckland region that would have made up the WRC event, the day prior before converting his Hyundai into hill climb spec overnight.

“It is such a shame that COVID-19 has disrupted the sport so much and that we weren’t able to hold a WRC Rally New Zealand on those awesome stages,” Paddon said.

“It will be great to be able to drive some of those iconic stages and compete with New Zealand’s best too.

“My team will be working hard converting Hyundai i20 overnight and setting it up for the Battle of Jacks Ridge on the Sunday, where the extra horsepower will be needed.

“It sounds like there will a lot of competition and I can’t wait to get amongst it.”

Other big names have expressed an interest in competing in the event and some more announcements are likely in the coming days.

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Battle of Jacks Ridge

Sky Sport to broadcast inaugural Jacks Ridge rally sprint live

Sky Sport will provide exclusive live coverage of the Battle of Jacks Ridge rally sprint on Sunday November 15 as the sport evolves with a new-generation urban event.

Featuring the best rally drivers in the country and some of the biggest names in New Zealand motorsport, the Battle of Jacks Ridge promises to be the biggest domestic event in New Zealand rally history and it will take place just minutes from downtown Auckland.

The event will see competitors blast around 2km of purpose-built gravel road, featuring high speed jumps, technical corners and close proximity to spectators on former New Zealand champion Andrew Hawkeswood’s Whitford property.

With the Hauraki Gulf, Rangitoto Island and the Auckland City skyline as a backdrop, Jacks Ridge is a spectacular location to watch rally cars compete on a World Rally Championship-calibre power stage, located just 20 minutes from the Auckland CBD.

Sky Sport will broadcast the final runs live during four hours of live coverage that will be unlike anything ever seen on New Zealand soil before.

Greg Murphy will be covering the event in November.

The coverage will be fronted by an all star line up including Sky Speed hosts Stephen McIvor and four-time Bathurst winner Greg Murphy and will feature 16 separate cameras capturing every piece of the action.

Rally New Zealand chairman Peter Johnston is hailing the partnership with Sky Sport as the future of the sport in New Zealand.

“For Sky to broadcast the event this way is a massive coup for the sport,” he said. “From the moment we first spoke to them, Sky has been very supportive and has recognised what we can achieve together.

“The coverage will be world class and will give viewers the closest possible experience to be being there in person.”

Sky Sport presenter and former Supercars star Murphy spent some time in the latter part of his career rally driving and is super keen to be involved in the event.

“I have a massive love of rallying,” Murphy said. “I was so excited about the WRC coming to New Zealand and then so disappointed when COVID-19 prevented that from happening.

“There was so much work that went into securing the WRC by a lot of people.

“I was involved in some conversations around what we could do to give the rally community something that was as close to world championship quality as possible and to make use of this amazing stage.

“So when it was proposed we do the Battle of Jacks Ridge I was only too keen to lend a hand.

“It is going to be an amazing event and I am thrilled that I can play a role via my broadcast duties with Sky Sport and potentially drive in the event as well.”

Hayden Paddon is excited to compete at the Battle of Jacks Ridge in November.

New Zealand’s most successful rally driver Hayden Paddon will be the star attraction and is an ambassador for the event.

“Like everyone I was disappointed that Rally New Zealand was not possible this year but I cannot wait to compete on that world class stage and in front of Kiwi rally fans,” Paddon said.

“Jacks Ridge is a phenomenal rally stage and will make for one heck of an event.

“I’ll be there and I can’t wait to test myself against the best cars and drivers in New Zealand.”

The Battle of Jacks Ridge is already attracting huge interest from New Zealand’s best drivers while leading motorsport figures are also lining up for a crack at the rally sprint.

Find out more by visiting and sign up to the Gravel database to get sent the latest info.

To pre-register for tickets to the Battle of Jacks Ridge, click here.

Dale Budge
Media and Communications Manager
+64 274 939 442

Battle of Jacks Ridge City of Auckland Rally wrc


A handful of local rally drivers got a sneak test of the new purpose-built Jacks Ridge stage in South Auckland earlier this week.

Andrew Hawkeswood’s Mazda AP4 car in action at Jacks Ridge. Photo / Geoff Ridder

Pukekohe’s Dylan Turner (Audi AP4), Papakuras Kingsley Jones (Skoda R5), Cambridge’s Anthony Jones (Millington powered Escort) and Brookby’s Jack Hawkeswood (Mazda AP4) for whom the stage is named after got to drive the new stage on former New Zealand Rally Champion Andrew Hawkeswoods property near Brookby School.

Hawkeswood constructed the 7km-long stage on his property with the thought of using it as a special stage in the World Rally Championships Rally New Zealand, which was set to return in September before Covid-19 forced its postponement.

In conjunction with Rally New Zealand the stage will now be used in November’s City of Auckland Rally a one day event using the roads in Whitford, Riverhead and in the Kaipara region north of Auckland and will then play home to a one-day rally sprint based entirely on the Hawkeswood property the following day.

It will attract the best drivers in New Zealand with WRC star Hayden Paddon committing to taking part in his Hyundai.

Under the eye of Rally New Zealand officials and some special dignitaries the drivers spent a couple hours shaking down the stage on Monday.

After their runs the drivers were noticeably impressed.

It is awesome absolutely awesome, Jones told Counties Sports Hub. It has some really grouse corners and some big commitment jumps, which I’m not quite there yet.

It will take a bit of getting used to but we will try and get some secret testing up here, have a play and see if we can sort that out.

The location offers plenty of undulation; there are tight corners, fast sections and some spectacular jumps that will test the very best drivers out.

Jones acknowledges the drivers that tackle those jumps the best will be the guys to beat.

It is commitment to jumps you have to learn where to place the car, he explained. Depending on how ballsy you are, some people just don’t care and take everything flat but when you are driving a car like this [an imported Skoda Fabia R5]; it is everything I own. It makes it a little harder to get out and do that.

I just need to get it right in my head and I am happy to take 20 goes rather than one to commit.

Spectators will love the location as well it is as close to the Auckland population as is possible and offers spectacular views of the stage as well as the Auckland city and harbour landscape in the background.

The City of Auckland Rally will take place on Saturday November 14 with the Battle of Jacks Ridge set for Sunday November 15.

Battle of Jacks Ridge City of Auckland Rally rallynz wrc

City of Auckland Rally and Battle of Jacks Ridge Announced

Rally New Zealand organisers have today announced two exciting new events, the City of Auckland Rally and the Battle of Jacks Ridge to be staged in November.

The event will comprise the stages that were planned for the World Rally Championship event both north and east of the city.

The City of Auckland Rally will be held on Saturday 14 November and include stages in the Kaipara Hills, Puhoi and Riverhead Forest before its conclusion at the purpose-built road ‘Jacks Ridge’ in Whitford.

The Battle of Jacks Ridge will be a standalone rally sprint on Sunday 15 November which will feature an open category rally sprint over a section of the 6.2km Jacks Ridge stage.

“Clearly we had planned to spotlight these stages at the FIA World Rally Championship event in September” said Rally New Zealand Chairman, Peter Johnston.

“We were so pleased with the route that was coming together for Rally New Zealand, and now we want to share the Auckland-based stages with rally drivers and our fans.  

“There are some incredible rally stages north and west of the city which are fan-friendly and on Auckland’s door step.”

The jewel in the crown is Jacks Ridge, which has been purpose-built by well-known rally driver Andrew Hawkeswood. It is planned to be used as the power stage for Rally New Zealand.

‘Jacks Ridge is unlike anything seen before in the history of New Zealand rallying.  The stage is exciting and highly technical,  incredibly spectator friendly and is easily accessible for fans.’

It’s something that’s been bubbling away for a little while, but the World Rally Championship returning was the perfect motivation to make it happen. Building Jack?s Ridge was all about using the lay of the land to create a stage that drivers would love combined with safe and prime spectating opportunities,’ said Hawkeswood.

The two events that follow on from the recent cancellation of Rally New Zealand from the 2020 World Rally Championship calendar, with organisers remaining optimistic that these iconic roads will feature in the 2021 WRC schedule.

‘We are taking this opportunity to shakedown Jacks Ridge and the stages around Auckland to showcase our preparedness for hosting the 2021 WRC event’ said Johnston.

‘The FIA and WRC Promoter are aware that we have invested significantly into the return of Rally New Zealand.

‘We believe when fans get the chance to check out Jacks Ridge, they will get a sense of the excitement and magnitude of hosting the World Rally Championship which we hope will be included on the 2021 calendar.’

For more information see and or contact Merran Brockie-David.

Merran Brockie-David
Rally New Zealand
+64 21 2725596

rallynz wrc

Rally New Zealand look towards the future after WRC event cancelled

Rally New Zealand organisers today confirmed that the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship event in and around Auckland in September has been cancelled due to the ongoing challenges with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

With three months until the planned return of the WRC event, but with the New Zealand borders remaining closed to international visitors for the foreseeable future, the organisers had reached their final deadline.

‘It became clear that with our borders closed to international travel and the logistics required to host thousands of international visitors as part of the World Rally Championship, that the September 2020 date was not practical,’ said Rally New Zealand 2020 CEO, Michael Goldstein.

‘Over the last twelve months our team have done a huge amount of work to be ready to host a WRC event.

‘We are disappointed to not host the World Rally Championship in 2020 but at the same time the issues around the world put this into context.’

While WRC Promoter and FIA are yet to finalise their 2021 calendar, Rally New Zealand organisers are optimistic that the country’s iconic roads will be a feature of the WRC schedule. Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) Steve Armitage – General Manager Destination  said while Auckland will miss out on the opportunity to host the WRC in September, the prospect of a potential 2021 event is exciting.

‘ATEED understands and supports the decision to cancel the 2020 event given the current global travel restrictions and uncertainty of when borders will reopen. While we appreciate this will disappoint many motorsport fans, there are clearly a range of practical issues that cannot be resolved in time for the event to proceed as scheduled. Of course, we welcome the opportunity to work with the promoter and the FIA in the future to explore the possibility of this iconic event returning to our shores in 2021’ Mr Armitage said.

FIA Rally Director Yves Matton said: ‘We were all excited to see New Zealand reclaim its place in the FIA World Rally Championship in 2020 after a seven year absence and we are naturally sad that we will not be able to go there this year.

‘The event has a strong  WRC heritage and I’m sure the drivers would have loved to be back on its iconic stages or discover them for the first time. Motorsport New Zealand and the organising team have done a fantastic work so far and we are already looking ahead to the rally taking place in the near future.’

For information contact:
Ian Hepenstall
Media Manager
Rally New Zealand 2020
T: +64 275 613181


First WRC 9 Gameplay video from New Zealand released

WRC 9 developers Nacon and its development studio KT Racing have revealed the first gameplay video from New Zealand, one of three new destinations that will feature in WRC 9.

The latest edition of the official video game, set for release on 3 September on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC from the Epic Games Store, includes all three of the new stops on the 2020 WRC Calendar, with gameplay videos from Japan and Kenya to follow.

The New Zealand stages are set on the country?s North Island, taking in the rugged scenery around the nation?s biggest city, Auckland. 

In addition to the initial release on 3 September, further releases will follow on PlayStation 5, Xbox One Series X and Nintendo Switch at a later date.

‘Roads in New Zealand are amongst the most beautiful and the most appreciated in the WRC,’

Benoit Gomes, Lead Level Designer at KT Racing

‘Famous for its fast chains of turns and a sustained pace rhythm, along with breath-taking landscapes, Rally New Zealand truly offers a particular experience. A long preparation work allowed us to replicate, as closely as possible, the luxuriant vegetation, the light and unique ocean views, as well as the road’s topography and surfaces, mainly composed of gravel. We’re convinced that players will enjoy taking up this challenge as much as we did in WRC 9,’ added Gomes.


Ken Block and Ford line up for Rally New Zealand

We are thrilled that Ken Block will be part of Rally New Zealand this year, says Michael Goldstein, CEO, Rally New Zealand 2020 Ltd. “We are also delighted to welcome Ford New Zealand as an elite sponsor of the event.”

American rally driver and YouTube sensation Ken Block has announced he will contest Rally New Zealands FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) event this September in a Ford Escort RS Cosworth.

Blocks exciting news comes as Ford New Zealand confirms its backing of Rally New Zealand as an elite sponsor for the event, adding more momentum to what is shaping up to be the biggest motorsport event in New Zealand for many years.

Block is the first high profile driver to confirm his intention to make the most of New Zealands inclusion on the 2020 WRC calendar.

Gelsmino Block
Ken Block (right) and co-driver Alex Gelsomino

This will be Blocks fourth run at Rally New Zealand, having previously contested the event in 2012, 2008 and 2007. The California-based competitor has also contested six regional rallies with regular co-driver Alex Gelsomino in New Zealand since 2007, winning the International Rally of Whangarei in 2015 in his Ford Fiesta HFHV (hybrid function hoon vehicle).

Block says that New Zealand has some of the best rally roads in the world and he was super keen to include this event in his international schedule this year.

Block will compete in the Ford Escort RS Cosworth which he ran at the International Rally of Whangarei last year.  The livery of Blocks Hoonigan Escort RS Cosworth was revealed today in California, along with the details of the remainder of Blocks 2020 programme which gets underway at Rally Mexico, 12-15 March.

Blocks exciting news comes as Ford New Zealand confirms its backing of Rally New Zealand as an elite sponsor.

Ford New Zealand is excited to be a part of Rally New Zealands World Rally Championship event this year, says Simon Rutherford, Managing Director, Ford New Zealand.

Ford globally has a long history with rally sport and locally were not only excited to be supporting the event, but as huge fans ourselves, were looking forward to getting out there to watch. Its such a fantastic event with our unique and challenging roads, the cars, a large and vibrant fan base and, of course, now Ken Block!

Michael Goldstein, CEO of Rally New Zealand 2020 Ltd, is delighted to be able to share Blocks announcement with fans and have Ford join Rally New Zealand as an elite sponsor. 

We are thrilled that Ken Block will be part of Rally New Zealand this year, says Goldstein.

Ken is a truly global motorsport star and we know rally fans will be excited to see Ken on New Zealands iconic rally roads.

Goldstein adds: Having Ford New Zealand step up to support Rally New Zealand means a lot and we are grateful to be working alongside them. Fords links to the World Rally Championship date back to the 1970s and, for many fans, Ford is the ultimate WRC manufacturer. We are delighted to have Ford New Zealand join us as a commercial partner for Rally New Zealand this year.

Ken Block is a legend in the motorsport world, and we are excited that he is coming our way, says Steve Armitage, General Manager Destination at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED). As a round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally New Zealand is a top international event with a strong following around New Zealand and we hope that this event will entice many Kiwis to travel to Auckland during what is traditionally our shoulder season and enjoy everything that our region has to offer. Ken has a huge international fan base and social media following particularly with his viral Gymkhana video series and his popularity will boost Aucklands profile as a global destination.

Rally New Zealand will make further announcements in March and April.

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How Rally New Zealand got back in the WRC | Simon Chapman

Since the FIA World Rally Championship left New Zealands 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 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 wasnt 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 Zealands return becoming a serious prospect.

We met Oliver in 2015 at Rally Australia, before then, I dont 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. Weve been working very closely with these guys for a year. 

Theres 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 theres 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. Weve worked towards it since then. Its 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 didnt last long and the championship left without return after 2012. 

Despite the elongated absence, Ciesla said hes confident the rally will be the biggest in the events 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. Its 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.


Interview: Rally NZ, Hayden Paddon, and hybrids with WRC boss

News that the World Rally Championship would return to New Zealand in 2020 rocked the local motorsport landscape. After a seven-year crusade of peaks, troughs, and absence our beautiful cambered gravel would host a global FIA motorsport series once again. 

It was one of a host of popular decisions that the WRC has made in the recent past, as it tries to build on its current momentum as a sport. And few people in the category’s fold are more across that growth than WRC Managing Director Oliver Ciesla.

Ciesla paid a brief visit to New Zealand after the drama of Rally Australia. We sat down with him at Driven HQ to talk about the Kiwi return, Hayden Paddon’s passionate work, and where the WRC is heading next.

MH: Was there a specific campaign to get New Zealand back onto the WRC calendar that started it all for you, or was returning here something that the WRC always had in mind?

OC: The WRC and New Zealand have a long-standing relationship. New Zealand has hosted the WRC more than 30 times, so there?s a permanent contact with the people in New Zealand and the time we spent together [and] the opportunity to host an event was permanently on the agenda. It was a matter of time and opportunity to see when that would be possible again.

We as WRC promoters know the kind of value that New Zealand can add to the championship. At the same time, we need to make sure that we offer to the car manufacturers that are ? let?s call it ? our biggest stakeholders, a good portfolio of countries. And, a good country means a country where they sell a lot of cars. We need big marketing budgets from their boards, and in the end the return on investment is measured.

New Zealand has a slight disadvantage over other countries, so we cannot be here permanently. But, to be here occasionally, is fantastic for us because we see a great sport and it?s a different visualization of how we do our sport.

[We race] in an environment that we can only find here, and from a pure sporting point of view it?s interesting because after seven years of not being here all of our drivers and co-drivers have their starting block at the same line. Also from a sporting point of view it?s interesting to regularly change the events. Coming back for us is very positive news.

There?s been a big saturation of coverage around the campaign of Hayden Paddon and his team of supporters to get WRC back. From your side, is that quite common ? are there drivers all over the globe who make the same passionate push to promote their own country? Or is it something unique to Hayden?

I think it?s fair to say that Hayden is an exceptionally good ambassador for the sport and the country.

His contribution, alongside the contribution of Peter Johnstone, Rally New Zealand, Michael Goldstein ? there?s a whole group of people that in a very sympathetic manner but without stopping [laughs] were pushing to make it happen.

They were successful, and the support of Hayden was part of that success for sure. 

With an event like Rally New Zealand, what are the biggest challenges?

I?m quite confident that New Zealand will manage to organize a top level event. I have no doubts. The sporting side will be on the highest possible level, because after so many years the knowledge and the expertise ? how to organize rallying on a world-class level ? is within the country.

What changed since the last time is how we promote the sport. How do we create the fan experience? How do we bring the fan even closer to the car and the drivers than in the past? This is something where we team up to share our experience, to look together and what could be a good venue to make an opening ceremony or host a service park. What do we want to see in a service part that a fan ? that today isn?t only men, but families ?can be offered to entertain them, to make them feel good.

The same counts for the stages. In the past when the sport was organized well, you just needed to make sure how the fan finds its access to the stages. How this isn?t enough. Once they?re there, we want to make sure they feel good, they have something to eat and drink, and all the information they needs. What is the standing? Who?s coming next on the road? Wireless LAN in the forest ? stuff like this has changed in the last few years. But, it?s nothing that cannot be achieved, so I?m quite confident the sport and the show will be really good when we come back. 

Other big global categories like Formula 1 and IndyCar are going through challenges with things like safety, environmental pressure, and changes in the automotive landscape ? to the point that some are concerned about the health of those championships. Where is WRC standing in terms of its health and evolution?

If we measure the success of the sport by global TV audience, global digital followers, by on-site spectactors, and commercial success ? there’s been a continuous postive trend for seven years now. So there’s a number of things that, apparently, have been done right.

If you look at the sport itself, years ago often the championship was over in the middle of the season or single events would be decided already on the Saturday. So, some tweaks on the start order, with the introduction of the power stage, we could change things for the better and make single events less predictable. The outcome is better drama, more unpredictability, and thus more drama. That’s not only for the single events ? if you look at the last three years now rallies have been won by all the car manufacturers and by four to seven different drivers. This is great. 

And, the last two years, we brought the decision of who becomes world champion to the last round of the championship, and it was this year the second-to-last event.

So, many things have changed, and the consequences are that we get more appreciated in the media, that we get more slots, more followers ? because the drama creates the relevance to be watched. If the fans are pulling the demand, the broadcasters get on board, the social media grows, and this is all happening.

At the same time, we’re increasing the offer. In the past there was a highlight show during the day and a big highlight show at the end of the event, today we offer every stage live. The sheer quantity of broadcast hours has gone through the ceiling, and at the same time the brands consequently enjoy more visibility.

We went even further; being completely independent from whether a broadcaster in each country likes to takes the rally on board or not, we offer WRC Plus, which is our own TV service. And, if you’re a hardcore follower that wants to see all the stages live, all the highlight shows, [footage] from the last three rallies on demand, you want to see the on-board cameras, you would like to compare the on-board cameras between Hayden [Paddon] and Sebastien Ogier, you want to see on Google Maps life where are all the cars, this is all available to you for $9. 

This is something that makes the sport so much more accessible, and it goes well. And this is only the media. Also on site, the number of spectators that came and saw the rallies when we started the job was in the ballpark of three million. Last year, four million. So this is an up; 20, 25 per cent, which means as an event organiser you have more people coming to the service park, coming to the stages. So whoever’s involved has a better return on investment.

Many things are going good, but this does not mean there aren’t challenges that we need to respond to. I think the important thing is to anticipate these challenges and introduce the change before it becomes a threat to you.

If you follow us closely you’ll know the decision has been made in 2022 the next generation of rally cars will be introduced, and it will be a hybrid. We respond to sustainability, the market, but also the car manufacturers today want to promote and we want to offer the platform.

Also, all our events ? and this isn’t just since yesterday ? have a list of obligations to fulfill criteria that make the event carbon neutral as well as other environmental requirements. And we are the single championship under the roof of the FIA where all events fulfill this criteria. So, we take care very well of these kinds of demands. 

I think [climate change] is part of all of our responsibility, but also when we want to propose an attractive marketing platform to the biggest car manufacturers or big sponsors or host cities, we must make sure that we’re up to date with sustainability requirements.

Many of these things that are a challenge to a motorsport championship, whether it’s a regulations or environment, we have that very much on the agenda, but it’s a never-ending process. Tomorrow, we will face new challenges. Manufacturers will come to us and say it’s good that we’re in New Zealand, but ?we sell more cars in the United States ? why are you not in the United States?? Then well need to see how we go there.

The WRC has increased its footprint with next year’s calendar by adding New Zealand, Japan, a return to Africa, and more. How important is it that a championship like this one is truly global?

I personally think this is very important. First of all, for your credibility as a world championship you should touch as many continents as possible. We haven’t been for years to Asia or Africa, and I’m really proud we could change that. 

But, part of that notion that you want to be on as many continents as possible ? I also see opportunity. South East Asia; at the moment there is a very young population growing, and the growing interest in having their own car, and consequently motorsports. We have to be there now, otherwise we lose a generation. So there’s quite an intrinsic motivation for the sport to be present in a time when the market is very receptive for your offer.

We’re doing so well .. moving to Chile was a great decision. Going back to Africa next year will be tremendous ? the Safari Rally is such a strong brand, to have that back in our portfolio will help the whole championship and its global visibility.

Going back to Japan, which is one of the biggest populations in the world and one of the biggest car markets and industries and at the same time being so open and positive to motorsports, this will be an accelerator for our growth in that entire timezone. We have for all broadcasters in the Asia Pacific two events that do not come with the time difference problem

So there’s a lot to consider when going global. There’s a lot of upsides, but at the same time also a lot of diffficulties. We have, unfortunately, today not the chance to grow our calendar to 16 events or maybe more. The price for coming to new destinations is losing old but also good destinations. And this something that we have to see how we do that in the best possible manner in the future.

What kind of advice would you offer Hayden Paddon after all of his trials and tribulations in 2019?

For us and for the organisation here, it would be of course a dream to have Hayden in a World Rally Car when the WRC is in Auckland.

I still want to believe that this is absolutely not an impossible thing. It is not impossible or not even unlikely, that one of the manufacturer teams might give him a car for a single event only. If this is not the case, still these cars can be rented. It’s just a commercial deal, and maybe a group of supporters in New Zealand or industry partners that want to put a sticker on the car can form a consortium, put the bucks together, rent the car, and here we go.

For me, I’m very optimistic that we’ll see Hayden in a car when it comes to Rally New Zealand. And personally I very much hope that this will happen. He’s such a great ambassador for our sport and for the country that I don’t want to see Rally New Zealand without Hayden.

Photos / NZH File, Getty Images