The excitement was everywhere during Rally Argentina last week. The news was out: Monte was back. And the Abu Dhabi deal was sorted. A year book-ended by the classic of classics and the coming event of the World Rally Championship was a massive reason to be cheerful in South America.
And then came the World Motor Sport Council last Friday.
Abu Dhabi would have given us this © LAT
In fact, from what I'm told, Abu Dhabi didn't even get to the table to be discussed. Rally Abu Dhabi was sunk the night before the WMSC meeting, when - allegedly - the FIA was informed by the Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates that Abu Dhabi wasn't ready to run a round of the championship.
I don't get it. We're 18 months out from an event with the best and most secure funding in the history of the world championship and the sporting side of the operation says no!
When I got wind of this, I was utterly baffled. My first thought was that the FIA had shut the door on Abu Dhabi, fearing the political backlash of allowing an untried and untested event to come into the calendar. But no, that wasn't the case. There was nothing the FIA could do on this one.
Constitutionally, if the ASN (the ATC of the UAE) says no, then the FIA is powerless to do anything.
No matter how many millions the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority committed to the project, it was dead in the water from the moment the ASN - led by president Mohammed bin Sulayem (who is also the FIA vice-president) - failed to get behind it.
Now, I don't know bin Sulayem, but I know of his astonishing driving career. Who doesn't? This is a bloke who won 14 FIA rally titles - that's way more than Sebastien Loeb. Granted, Loeb is the king of the world, while bin Sulayem's rule was restricted to the Middle East. But is there a man with more fever for our sport in that part of the world? No. There can't be. So, how is it that the region's governing body of motorsport has ensured there will be no World Rally Cars running around the Middle East next year?
Mohammed bin Sulayem with FIA president Jean Todt © LAT
Numerous sources have pointed to the Abu Dhabi business plan for what was to be next November's WRC finale being light on sporting details. If this is true, then I'd like to know what part of this was insurmountable in the next year and a half. The last I heard, there was a willingness to waiver the previously required candidate event from Abu Dhabi in return for close control from the FIA over the way the event would unfold.
Even if it's true that half the roads had yet to be agreed on - or sourced - that's not a problem. It's not like this region is new to the world of construction...
All the FIA could do was invite the region to run a candidate event next year for possible inclusion in 2013. As you might have read in this week's AUTOSPORT, that offer has been politely declined by Abu Dhabi.
The loss of a WRC round in Abu Dhabi will likely have far-reaching implications for rallying at the highest level in the area in more ways than one. Firstly, what's the point in Abu Dhabi continuing the massive - and previously unprecedented levels of financial support (like £25m since 2007) - for the sport if the ultimate goal has, once again been denied them.
And secondly, what does this mean for Jordan? The hugely popular Dead Sea event was struggling for finance this season and its main hope for WRC survival was on a rotational basis with Abu Dhabi.
Have I missed something here? Is there another event waiting in the wings to step up to the WRC and ensure the Middle East remains part of this World Championship?
I don't think so.
Twelve months ago, Abu Dhabi came close to landing a place on this year's calendar. You may remember the deal: Jordan was kicked out in favour of its cash-rich neighbour. There was more to it than that, but that's essentially the way it worked. FIA president Jean Todt was having none of that and tasked commercial rights holder North One Sport with mending fences down Dead Sea way, something they did with admirable tact and foresight.
Abu Dhabi has embraced Formula 1 © LAT
Jordan's gain was Abu Dhabi's loss. Behind the scenes, one can only imagine the level of brokering going on to get Abu Dhabi back to the table. But, again, a deal was done. And now this. This latest blow must raise enormous question marks over the Emirates' continued participation in the sport, and that's a real shame.
There are cynics out there - I know because 12 months ago I was one of them - who see Abu Dhabi as trying to buy its way into the sport. Of course, that's partly true, but, from what I can see, it's done more than its share; at the highest level its title sponsorship of Ford World Rally Team has helped keep the Focus and now the Fiesta in the championship. On a more fundamental level, you and I should be thanking it for things like keeping Rally Radio on air.
And it's not like Abu Dhabi was trying to sell us a pup. Those close to the project talk about the ultimate WRC round that would have been Rally Abu Dhabi and, having seen the way it approached Formula 1, it's hard to think it would have been anything less.
Yes, it was out of order to circumvent the need for a candidate rally - and yes, other events like Poland et al, that paid their 100,000 euros to the FIA to run a candidate event before eventual inclusion in the WRC were right to be hugely annoyed. But this is a loss to the WRC. A big loss. And, a mightily baffling one at that.
Among the other odd decisions from the WMSC was the return of Sardinia to the schedule. We're told that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had a hand in that and it's good news for the WRC that it's getting onto the right political radars - but we do need to make sure we get back to the mainland as soon as possible.
And, of course, Great Britain's deal is done. Or partly done. Our name's down, but we're just not sure where we're going to be playing yet. The latest scoop is that Wales has matched Yorkshire's offer for a three-year deal.
Kielder in the winter would appeal to rally fans all over Britain © LAT
Personally, I'd quite like a move out of Wales. Don't get me wrong, Cardiff is a great place and our annual Woods Brasserie nosh-up in the Bay is one of the seasonal highlights - along with the visual delights of watching in the likes of Hafren or Crychan. I love this event, but it seems crazy that Loeb has never tasted our sport in Britain outside of it. He's never seen the rev limiter inside darkest Dalby or tickled the ditches in killer Kielder. Come on, it would be great to get back there.
The good thing is, whichever one wins - the real winner is you and I. A top-to-bottom Welsh Rally GB is going to be fantastic and a tour of the north just as entertaining.
Granted, it's September, which isn't the month of choice for traditionalists, but it's good for the tourist industry and without that backing, we probably wouldn't have a Rally GB.
Getting back onto the importance of the tourist industry backing the WRC is a neat way back to the top of this column.
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