(Pic: Neil Blackbourn)
RALLY Australia has won its bid to host the final round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship, with the date set for 17-20 November in the season calendar announced today.
The Australian WRC event will be staged on the New South Wales Coffs Coast for the fifth time, supported by the State Government through its Destination NSW tourism and events organisation.
The calendar of 14 rounds – one more than in recent seasons and including China for the first time since 1999 – was announced from Munich by the championship organiser WRC Promoter GmbH, following approval by the WRC Commission of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile.
WRC Promoter Managing Director Oliver Ciesla said Rally Australia fully deserved its place as the World Championship finale, praising the organising team and its “refreshing approach” to promotional opportunities.
Rally Australia Chairman Ben Rainsford said the “prize” spot on the calendar offered valuable potential benefits to the region – plus a new opportunity to showcase the WRC in Sydney.
“Moving to November re-positions Rally Australia away from competition for spectator attendance and media coverage with other major domestic sporting fixtures, which we’ve had to contend with around our recent date in September,” Mr Rainsford said.
“Without the need to rush home to the northern hemisphere for the next event, many international rally visitors will have an opportunity to stay on and see more of the beautiful Coffs Coast region and New South Wales – something they have said they want to do.
“We are also planning to take the WRC to Sydney the night after the event finishes for a post-season gala function.
“This will be a new feature of the WRC season and will bring all the glamour of one of the world’s great motorsport championships to one of the most spectacular cities in the world, Sydney.
“I have spoken in the past week to WRC representatives, including team managers, about the Sydney gala plan and they’re enthusiastically behind it.
“It will be a night to applaud not only the champions, but also the other stars and those behind the scenes among the teams, organisers and media – and for everyone to let their hair down after 11 months travelling to 14 countries and five continents.”
Mr Rainsford said Rally Australia last hosted the WRC closing round in 2004 and 2005, when it was staged in Western Australia.
“With the support of the Coffs Coast community we’ve worked hard to meet the WRC’s high expectations for organisation, promotion and the sporting challenge and are delighted we’ve been rewarded with this prestigious calendar slot and a further contract for 2017,” he said.
“As Rally Australia experienced in the mid-1990s and as Adelaide did in its Formula 1 hey-days, hosting the closing round of a world championship creates a very exciting atmosphere. We’ll be making sure the third weekend in November 2016 wraps up with a great party for spectators, the locals and the WRC international visitors.”
The date change was welcomed by Coffs Harbour Mayor Denise Knight, whose council has supported the rally since it moved to the region in 2011.
“This is an amazing result for the entire Coffs Coast region. The community has been behind this event 100 per cent from the start and the drivers, teams and media have always regarded it as one of the best rounds of the season,” Councillor Knight said.
“This event has opened a truly global window on the region and winning the right to host the final stage is the best news possible.”
The 2016 FIA World Rally Championship will begin in January with the historic Rallye Monte-Carlo and feature gravel, asphalt, snow and ice action across five continents to find the world’s best all-round driver.
Australia’s previous slot among the great rally nations has been awarded to Rally China, in the Huairou district near Beijing, allowing the WRC’s manufacturer teams to showcase their products in the world’s biggest car market. From 2017, the production-based WRC will represent four of the world‘s top-five automotive brands, Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Ford.
WRC Promoter’s Oliver Ciesla said the 2016 calendar offered a mix of tradition and innovation.
“It brings an enticing blend of the WRC’s heritage, in the form of classic and long-standing events such as Sweden, Argentina and Finland, with a new and exciting challenge on asphalt roads in China,” he said.
“Another major change sees Australia become the final round. The Coffs Harbour rally is driven by an enthusiastic organising team with a refreshing attitude to promotional opportunities and fully deserves its place as the season’s final fixture.”
2016 FIA WRC calendar:
Rd 1. Monte-Carlo*, 22-24 January
Rd 2. Sweden, 12-14 February
Rd 3. Mexico, 4-6 March
Rd 4. Argentina, 22-24 April
Rd 5. Portugal, 20-22 May
Rd 6. Italy, 10-12 June
Rd 7. Poland, 1-3 July
Rd 8. Finland, 29-31 July
Rd 9. Germany, 19-21 August
Rd 10. China**, 9-11 September
Rd 11. France*, 30 September-2 October
Rd 12. Spain, 14-16 October
Rd 13. Great Britain, 28-30 October
Rd 14. Australia, 17-20 November
* Inclusion remains subject to formalisation of contracts with FIA and WRC Promoter
** Inclusion remains subject to fulfilment of FIA requirements after candidate event