Will Rally Australia return to the Coffs Coast in 2021?
IT WAS set to be an eight-year celebration of the Coffs Coast laying claim to a world motorsport event, but with Rally Australia's cancellation this week due to bushfire danger, obvious questions are now being asked throughout the community and the motorsport world.
Has the Coffs Coast's association with the World Rally Championship come to a disappointing end after seven previous editions over the past eight years or will it be back in 2021?
Some in world rally including members of some leading WRC teams say the writing is on the wall, that Rally Australia has outgrown the Coffs Coast.
Others, however, remain steadfast that you won't find better forestry roads for the world's best off-road drivers on the East Coast.
A day after announcing Kennards Hire Rally Australia would be cancelled this week due to bushfire risks, CAMS president and Rally Australia chairman Andrew Papadopoulos gave an honest assessment of where he sees Coffs' place in the world of motorsport.
Under a rotation policy on the WRC's calendar, the southern hemisphere round that Rally Australia has laid claim to since 2012 will head to New Zealand next year.
But Papadopoulos said there was an assurance that Rally Australia would return to the WRC in 2021.
"We are currently talking (with the WRC promoters). This rotation system has not only affected us, it has affected Spain, it has affected France and we are talking to the promoter regarding an agreement for 2021 and onwards and absolutely we will come back," he told The Advocate at today's thank you luncheon to Rally Australia officials and volunteers.
"We run probably one of the best rallies in the world and we have got the expertise.
"We have got the officials, we have got all the training and we will use that in 2021 as we move forward.
Asked what he thought about suggestions within WRC rally teams that perhaps Rally Australia had outgrown the Coffs Coast, he was frank.
"Yes and no, I can tell you (the teams) all enjoy the roads here and we have a few options.
"Coffs is still one, but it depends on the economics and where the impetus is, because we are funded by the State Government so therefore we are very relevant in distributing economic impacts in the regions because rally is the only major motorsport event that goes to the regions.
"Our record here is around $16 million a year as an economic impact so that's a very sizeable amount.
"By all means we have got to get the right roads, the right infrastructure and to be world-class like we have always been.
"Coffs Harbour has been great for us and we have a long history in Coffs with the Southern Cross rallies dating back to the 70s.
"(Coffs) is in the pot of areas we are considering for 2021.
"Obviously the promoter has got to agree with it, but we have got some options.
"Under this rotation system that the FIA has instigated we have been assured that it will be one year off in New Zealand and they only get one year, because the manufacturers they are about selling cars the car market here is around 1.2-million (new car sales) and New Zealand its just over 100,000
"Australia is a bigger market, so we will fight a good campaign to ensure the rally comes back here and we'll be back in 2021."