The appointment of a new promoter group to manage the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) – a series New Zealand has been a part of since 1977, brings good news for those wishing to follow in the tyre tracks of Possum Bourne or Hayden Paddon.
The very roads that have taken our local drivers to prominence internationally are revered by those challenging for world champion status – their actions are beamed to millions around the globe as part of the fanatical following the sport has built to. Feeding that hunger, promotion group Red Bull Media House and the sportsman media group are propelling the 13 round championship further – extending the chances of New Zealand being painted as the ultimate destination to test more than the mettle of a world champion should a round be run in 2014.
"It's the highest profile global sporting event that's regularly contested in New Zealand. It's all about what we've got that the rest of the world loves to see – and that includes our driver talent," says Peter Johnston, chairman, Rally New Zealand organising committee.
"That international audience of millions brings them by the thousands to fulfil bucket-list dreams of visiting such a remote and scintillating destination. Impressionable fans who come here to spend money visiting a rally event we put on."
Last held in 2012, the event is on rotation with Australia. New Zealand's next chance returns in 2014.
"That's the good news for us," enthuses Johnston. "The early growth shown by the new promoter group means we're in the best position to benefit from a 2014 date. Their promotion machine will be at full-strength and with the drivers' opinion favouring a return to New Zealand; we're looking forward to the future."
Nine-time World Rally Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are first to endorse New Zealand as the ultimate destination to visit: "I love this country," said Elena after winning the 2012 event for the third time with his driver, Loeb. "The roads are very fast and for me, it's the best rally in the world because you enjoy it. The stages aren't so dangerous."
"For me it's a perfect rally. The stages are wonderful so it is a pleasure to drive here," added Loeb.
New cars, drivers and a return of manufacturers Volkswagen and Hyundai to the championship have fuelled interest in the 2013 season. As the series heads to Sweden for this weekend's second round Johnston says the snow and ice of Sweden are a big part of what makes the WRC the ultimate sporting challenge.
Fans can follow the World Rally Championship on New Zealand's SKY Sport, seeing the same coverage as is shown in Europe, UK, Middle East, Northern, Central and South America, Africa and the Asia Pacific.
For 2013 Rally New Zealand will again run the New Zealand Rally Championship, previously dominated by Possum Bourne and more recently Hayden Paddon. The six round championship also incorporates the only international event on this year's calendar, also run by Rally New Zealand: International Rally of Whangarei, 17-19 May.
Several new era cars will debut at the first round (Drivesouth Rally of Otago, 6-7 April), thanks to dramatic changes in the entry criteria that cater for non-traditional manufacturer brands.
More information can be found on our www.rallynz.org.nz website.