Rallying to keep champs on coast

RALLY Australia remains hopeful the FIA World Rally Championship will have a long-term future on the Coffs Coast, despite indications the 2012 Australian round will shift to New Zealand.

The Coffs Coast round, to be hosted locally for the first time in September, has been a notable omission from next year’s provisional calendar of venues announced by championship organisers in Europe on Thursday.

Instead it appears certain Rally Australia will make way for a return to an Auckland-based round in 2012.

The news has disappointed key rally partners who hoped Rally Australia would be granted hosting rights to the world motor sport event over consecutive years.

Despite the setback, Rally Australia says the focus remains on hosting a successful event in September.

“We’re disappointed that the provisional list appears to make our claim more difficult but we will continue to propose that Rally Australia’s location, solid community, business and government support and this country’s economic and social background fully justify our inclusion in the World Rally Championship,” said Rally Australia general manager Michael Masi.

“In recent weeks we have argued strongly for Rally Australia to have a permanent annual WRC round from 2012 and we’ll continue to push our case until the countries on the provisional list of events and the dates, which have not been announced yet, are subject to a final vote of the FIA (Federation International de l’Automobile) in Paris on June 3.

“But whatever happens over 2012 will not affect one iota our preparations for the 2011 Rally Australia on the Coffs Coast. Everything is on track for a successful, well-supported event,” he said.

The news is also a bitter pill for major partner Coffs Harbour City Council, which in less than ideal circumstances, hopes to see Rally Australia Coffs Coast become a biennial event at the very least.

“The council is disappointed by this decision, but it’s important we work with Rally Australia to make sure the local government area gets the maximum benefit from this year’s World Rally Australia,” said the council’s director of corporate business, Craig Milburn.

“The council, like Rally Australia, wants to see an FIA world round held on the Coffs Coast as often as possible. Ideally this would be over consecutive years, but if this isn’t possible there’s the hope it may go to Auckland in 2012 and return to the Coffs Coast in 2013,” he said.

The provisional list for 2012 mentions 12 host countries, one fewer than the current WRC calendar this year.

Mr Masi said this also reflected the difficult task of accommodating an over-supply of candidate countries.

“Rally Australia hosted the WRC in 2009, New Zealand last year, Australia this year and provisionally New Zealand next year. Without prejudice to New Zealand, we have been pushing for Australia to have its own permanent place on the calendar,” Mr Masi said.

“This is not a trans-Tasman issue. Both Australia and New Zealand have to independently prove their worth to host one of world motor sport’s most prestigious and widely followed competitions against rival bids from many countries in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.

“We appreciate the predicament of the WRC in trying to accommodate all these interests, but our focus is bringing the championship to Australia,” he said.

Rally Australia, Round 10 of 13 in the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship, will be staged on September 8 to 11 on the Coffs Coast.

Competition stages will be run on closed shire and forestry roads in the Coffs Harbour, Bellingen, Clarence Valley and Nambucca Heads local government areas.

The Super Special Stage, event operational headquarters, main rally car service area and international media centre will be hosted in Coffs Harbour.

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