Stop kicking the WRC Down Under

Published on Wednesday December 06 2017

Rally Australia has come under fire, perhaps unfairly. Pic: Mcklein-imagedatabase

What’s the worst kind of kicking you can get? For me, it’s that sneaky, cowardly kick from behind that catches you completely unawares and off guard. And from what I’m hearing, that’s exactly how Rally Australia organisers feel just now.

I came away from Coffs Harbour this year genuinely thinking it was perhaps the best rally I’d been to and was definitely now my favourite event on the calendar. So I was as shocked as the rally organisers to read the post-event criticism.

Let’s address first the highly spurious nonsense that was written about the quality of accommodation and eateries on Coffs Coast. Actually, let’s not. The day we start deciding on the suitability of destinations to put on a great round of the WRC based on these two criteria will be a very sad day indeed. I personally don’t go to events to eat and stay in luxury accommodation. 

Hotels are for sleeping in, very often for only a few hours a night, and eating is the fuel that keeps us tanked up to chase rally cars. 

Suffice to stay, I stayed in possibly the best accommodation I have experienced in nearly 20 years of following the WRC, and ate some of the best food. And all very reasonably priced it was too.

But moving on to more pertinent issues.

A lack of fans stage-side was a complaint. Pic: Mcklein

Can, or should, the organisers be looking to move Rally Australia to an area of greater population density? 

Again, there seems to be a lot of nostalgia getting in the way of reality with this one. Talk of a return to Perth is absolute tosh. It won’t happen – period. Why not? Because they don’t want us there! 

The same Labour government that gave us our marching orders all these years ago are still in power. And guess what, they’re still not fans of the WRC. 

And anyway, as Mr Mahonen has hinted, the days of 100km-plus liaisons and remote tyre zones are perhaps behind us. So, in the improbable circumstance of a glorious return to Perth, you can well and truly write Langley Park off as a service park option.

What about Sydney or Melbourne? These two great cities would be perfect, some argue. Well if your idea of ‘perfect’ is to be as impactful as a tick on the a**e of a kangaroo, then I agree. 

Media coverage from Australia was brilliant. Pic: Mcklein

A service park on the banks of Sydney Harbour, under the iconic Harbour Bridge with the majestic Opera House sitting imperiously across the water? Nah, won’t happen. More like a car park somewhere near Penrith. Check Penrith out on google maps, that’s what I had to do! 

And Melbourne would be no better. Possibly one of the worst road networks you will find anywhere and an airport that has yet to decide if it needs a rail link to the city centre. 

Beautiful cities both, just not suited to the WRC.

A lot was made about the lack of spectators on some of the stages. It’s Australia for goodness sake! 65,000 entrance-fee paying fans in a country of maybe 20 million is a creditable achievement. But most importantly, the stats are heading in the right direction. Why knock a rally that grows spectator numbers year after year?  

Coffs Harbour has an awful lot going for it. For me, it could be argued that Coffs is the Blueprint for rallies of the future. 

I see a lot of comparisons here with the newly relaunched Rally Turkey. Provincial towns both that want and need the benefits the WRC can clearly bring. Strong backing from local government and business, a community that fully embraces the WRC and is welcoming and accommodating, stages that offer quality and challenge in a compact format, organisers that are energised and experienced…

We need rallies in the calendar that can invest in the future of the WRC, and with the backing of the New South Wales government, Coffs Harbour gives us that.  

Should Rally Australia relocate? Our man thinks not. Pic: Mcklein

And then there is the not insignificant matter of social and traditional media. The only chance I had to watch TV in Oz was Thursday evening. And I can tell you, all the news bulletins, local and national, carried shakedown footage. Add to that the incredible social media output from the Rally Australia team and you have what I would call a media strategy for the future.

From what I understand the people of Coffs Harbour feel more than a little sore. They have gone out of their way year after year to make this the most welcoming event on the calendar, and for their efforts they take a kicking. 

How will these folk treat us when we return in 12 months? 

Well they’re Aussies, and they’re rally fans, so despite the ill-judged, somewhat rude, criticism I fully expect a warm and enthusiastic welcome once again from the good people of Coffs Harbour.

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