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The Otago Rally may still be sighted this year although its destiny appears out of the organisers’ control.
The rally has been canned for next month because of the spread of Covid-19.
Whether it can start this year will be largely dependent on WRC Rally New Zealand.
The Auckland-based return of the World Rally Championship to New Zealand is scheduled for September 4-6.
The Otago Rally organisers will have to wait for any calendar reshuffles to be made before it can ramp up the two-day, 16-stage event for later this year.
“The WRC and Asia Pacific rounds get first dibs to see what they are doing, then national, then regional,” Otago Rally spokesman Roger Oakley said.
“It’s hard to make plans. The whole situation hasn’t settled down into something foreseeable yet.”
The fifth WRC round in Argentina at the end of April was postponed and Chile’s event was cancelled due to social and political unrest in the country.
The series’ season is due to pick up again in Portugal on May 21-24.
Otago Rally organisers had been tracking the escalation of Covid-19 and it became clear that it would be neither practical nor socially responsible to stage the April 3-5 event, which is the first round of the New Zealand Rally Championship and a round of the FIA's Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
Calling off the event now minimised further impact to competitors, before they committed to travelling to Dunedin.
Former WRC driver Finn Mikko Hirvonen, who was the international star to drive in the event’s classic section, would have been required to self-isolate for two weeks upon entry into New Zealand.
Combined with a total of about 30 international teams entered, it meant running the event next month became infeasible.
“We weren’t about to risk competitors’ and our own time and money.”
“It is well understood that competitors will have put their heart and soul into preparing for the Otago Rally and the 2020 [New Zealand Rally] Championship. Despite this, many competitors have indicated that they need to withdraw, as family, work and business are now an immediate priority.
Competitors will have their entry fee refunded in full,’’ a statement from Otago Rally said.
Although thousands of hours had been invested in the 2020 event, fortunately a significant amount of this planning can be reused in the next event.
The route was to take about 113 competitors south from Dunedin and was centred around Lawrence and Waihola.
The route books and schedules could be resurrected and although “a lot of work needs to be re-done, we would not be starting from zero,” Oakley said.
A major regret however, was the loss of the economic benefits to Dunedin as it would have contributed 7000 bed nights and a direct spend of $1.8 million.
Providing such benefits to the city has always been a strong motivation for the organisers, the statement said.
The upside was that supporters, the community and competitors could be reassured that there is no risk to the capability of running future events and the organisers looked forward to making this a reality at the first opportunity, Oakley said.
“We haven’t been hit too hard. We can just wait and if need be, we can start again next year.”