Next year Rally New Zealand will take a year out from the world championship as part of a new rotational system that is designed to extend the spectacle of the sport to new countries while keeping the actual number of events each year down to a manageable (and affordable) level. That means that this year’s event is the last of 26 consecutive Rallys New Zealand to count towards the world series in some shape or form.
That means that this year’s event is the last of 26 consecutive Rallys New Zealand to count towards the world series in some shape or form. Most have been “full” rounds, comprising part of both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championship, although a number in the late 1980s counted only towards the drivers’ title, and the 1996 counted only as part of the second-tier F2 division of the series.
Under the new system, the world championship will comprise 24 events, each of which will be included in the series every second year. New Zealand is in good company in taking its year out in 2009, for other events in the same situation include the Monte Carlo, the Swedish Rally, and the Tour of Corsica.
Three events that have already spent a year or more on the sidelines _ Norway, Cyprus and Australia – return to the series for 2009. Australia, in effect, takes our place running at the start of September, and – like Rally New Zealand – with Repco as the main sponsor. New rounds for 2009 will include the season-opener in Ireland and the Polish Rally.
Portugal, Argentina, Italy, Greece, Spain and Britain also feature on the 2009 schedule for a championship that looks far more like a European series with a couple of courtesy rounds grafted on.
When New Zealand returns to the fold in 2010 the other non-European rounds will be in Turkey, Jordan, Japan and Indonesia. The 2010 championship is scheduled to include new events in Russia and Bulgaria.
Quite how rallies will look in their “off” years has yet to be seen, but I expect our event will take the place of the Whangarei Rally as this country’s round of the Asia-Pacific series and, again, as a round of the national championship.
By the time 2010 rolls up, the world championship will also be running to a new set of technical regulations for the cars themselves, so this year’s event really does mark the end of an era.
PHOTOS: Michael Young /MPHOTO