What the WRC can learn from Supercars to improve Rally Australia

Rally Australia's Coffs Harbour base found itself under fire from World Rally Championship teams and WRC promoter this week. ANDREW VAN LEEUWEN explains what lessons Supercars can offer the WRC

What the WRC can learn from Supercars to improve Rally Australia

Rally Australia organisers are facing a difficult task when it comes to dealing with the calls to shift the World Rally Championship event away from its current Coffs Harbour base.

The pressure to move the event is real. There were some blunt thoughts from teams, the promoter, and the FIA being thrown around during last weekend's WRC season finale on the Coffs Coast, and they can't be ignored.

So the big question is, where does the event go if it can't stay in Coffs?

As Rally Australia chairman Ben Rainsford told Autosport early in the WRC weekend, a shift closer to Sydney is unlikely to work.

There's a few reasons for that. Firstly, any funding from Destination NSW is unlikely to be poured into something that's seen to add to the capital's rich events line-up and rob a regional centre of the jewel in its crown.

And it's that government money, which has provisionally been allocated for three more years, that makes the event a better bet for the WRC than gambling on something like a return to New Zealand.

Secondly, there's little risk of protesting from locals in Coffs. While they may not swarm into the service park in numbers that satisfy the teams and the promoter, there is a sense from the population that the event is liked and that it's welcome.

That's not easy to achieve; just take a look at what's happening in Newcastle at the moment. Residents are up in arms about their city being turned into a race track for this weekend's Supercars finale, with protesting and vandalism making a shaky lead-up to the inaugural Newcastle 500.

The arguments range from reasonable (restriction of business trade due to road closures) to ludicrous (health concerns due to noise pollution). Rally Australia organisers know how disruptive it all is, having had to contend with a similar scenario in Kingscliff in 2009.

Newcastle would actually be a prime location for a WRC round, in terms of positioning relative to Sydney. But if the residents are so unhappy about four kilometres of inner city roads being turned into a race track, imagine trying to get 300 kilometres of competitive special stages off the ground.

It's not a Newcastle-specific issue either. The closer you get to the people, the more likely you are to encounter large groups of them that don't appreciate their driveways turned into playgrounds for rev heads.

A shift to Sydney would be unlikely to provide a massive boost in crowd numbers anyway; Sydneysiders are notoriously fickle event goers, especially when it comes to sport. And a move to Sydney would be trying to cram the event into an already crammed market.

To come back to Supercars, the philosophy in recent years has been to go the other way, and be the big dog in a small market. The Newcastle race literally replaces a race in Sydney. It's a model built on the success of the Darwin and Townsville rounds, and inspired by the likes of Adelaide's grand prix and Perth's Rally Australia, where engaging a smaller market led to populations taking ownership of 'their' event.

Not that a move back to Perth would work for the WRC now. The old Rally Australia had run its course by 2006 anyway, and the city has grown a lot since the mid-1990s when its events calendar was underpinned by the rally and the Hopman Cup tennis tournament.

You'd get a decent spike for a year or two built on the marketing strength of a 'grand return', but a 19-year success story like last time around is hugely unlikely.

Melbourne? Why drive to the bush to watch fast cars when they come to the fringe of the city every March anyway?

Adelaide? Maybe. Canberra? Perhaps. These could be viable options, but would they really give the event the boost in appeal that the teams and promoter want?

I don't envy the job that Rainsford has in trying to keep everyone happy, because the reality is that the destabilising of the event creates the potential for it to be swallowed whole by those waiting in the wings for a WRC round of their own.

Of course, doing nothing would likely have the same effect. Alternative options need to be considered, and Rainsford has promised to do exactly that.

The event doesn't have to stay in Coffs to be successful. But it does need a happy home, preferably long-term, because the most important place for Rally Australia to be is on the WRC schedule - and it's stability that will keep it there.

shares
comments
Toyota picked Tanak over Ogier for 2018 World Rally Championship

Previous article

Toyota picked Tanak over Ogier for 2018 World Rally Championship

Next article

New Volkswagen WRC car revealed as R5 completes maiden test

New Volkswagen WRC car revealed as R5 completes maiden test
Load comments
Does Neuville have a point with his Rally1 rant? Plus

Does Neuville have a point with his Rally1 rant?

OPINION: Thierry Neuville's diatribe against the upcoming Rally1-spec machines that will usher in the World Rally Championship's new hybrid era was remarkable in an era where drivers are usually reticent to air their views in public. But are the Belgian's concerns about speed, safety and cost entirely valid?

WRC
Sep 16, 2021
How the WRC's new flying Finn reached new heights in the Greek mountains Plus

How the WRC's new flying Finn reached new heights in the Greek mountains

After Kalle Rovanpera’s historic feat at Rally Estonia, the Finn scaled new heights at the Rally of the Gods with a commanding victory. And this time Toyota’s young star demonstrated why the future is bright with his devastating speed and consistency at the Acropolis Rally

WRC
Sep 13, 2021
The WRC drivers that came of age at the Acropolis Rally Plus

The WRC drivers that came of age at the Acropolis Rally

Five drivers have won first time out at the Rally Acropolis, transcending the tough dirt and gravel Greek roads to cement a place in rallying folklore. Here are three of the first-time winners' tales

WRC
Sep 9, 2021
Understanding Suninen’s sudden WRC exit gamble Plus

Understanding Suninen’s sudden WRC exit gamble

From being considered a likely contender to drive the next-generation M-Sport Ford Puma in 2022, Teemu Suninen's abrupt exit has created plenty of questions. The Finn's bid to become his country's next World Rally Championship winner won't be furthered by being sidelined, but there may be reason behind the decision

WRC
Sep 2, 2021
Could Spa’s cameo offer the WRC a new avenue to exploit? Plus

Could Spa’s cameo offer the WRC a new avenue to exploit?

OPINION: The Ypres Rally featured a cameo from the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in its final stage, giving WRC teams the chance to experience its iconic corners in rallying machinery. It proved to be an engaging addition to the rally, and could perhaps serve as an example for other events to visit famous circuits

WRC
Aug 24, 2021
How Hyundai's home hero delivered overdue WRC success in Belgium Plus

How Hyundai's home hero delivered overdue WRC success in Belgium

With limited recent fortune and pressure starting to mount, Hyundai needed a big result at the Ypres Rally. All the key components came together in Belgium to see home hero Thierry Neuville lead a manufacturer 1-2 and kickstart its World Rally Championship challenge

WRC
Aug 16, 2021
The new car that can resurrect Ford's WRC winning pedigree Plus

The new car that can resurrect Ford's WRC winning pedigree

M-Sport has become the first to unveil its new-for-2022 hybrid World Rally Championship challenger, the Puma Rally1. Ford has upped its support in a bid for glory, but can the new machine roll back the years and return the Blue Oval to the top of the WRC tree?

WRC
Aug 12, 2021
The rookie WRC driver aiming to continue Loeb and Ogier's legacies Plus

The rookie WRC driver aiming to continue Loeb and Ogier's legacies

French drivers have dominated the World Rally Championship across the past two decades; Sebastiens Loeb and Ogier have racked up the titles in commanding fashion. With Ogier calling it a day on full-time WRC competition from next year, France will pin its long-term hopes on rookie Adrien Fourmaux, who looks to have a bright future.

WRC
Aug 7, 2021