The future of the 2021 Australian Grand Prix is looking shakier as the FIA bins Rally Australia.
The decision to drop the Australian leg of the World Rally Championship shows that threats from the coronavirus, and Australia’s tight border controls, are influencing decisions at the highest levels of world motorsport.
The AGP is pressing ahead with the usual early organisation for next year’s race, which it says is again set to open the world championship in March, but the Rally Australia team has no chance of a reprieve.
Instead, the calendar for 2021 includes Croatia for the first time as Estonia retains its spot in the series after a successful debut this year.
There are 12 events in the planned series and, despite earlier rumours that Ireland would replace Britain, a UK event is still included. Kenya is scheduled again to return to the WRC with the Safari, but New Zealand has missed out for the same reasons as Australia.
“We have been in regular discussions with the WRC promoter and the FIA about the plans for 2021 and, while it is unfortunate that Australia cannot be on the calendar next year, we understand the rationale behind the decision,” said the CEO of Motorsport Australia, Eugene Arocca.
“We will also continue to work with both the WRC promoter and the FIA about hosting an Australian round in 2022 at a location to be confirmed.
“Despite this news, Motorsport Australia is still hopeful of hosting some international level rally events, with the regional FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
likely to feature at upcoming RSEA Motorsport Australia Rally Championship events in 2021.”
The first three rounds of next year’s ARC have already been set – Canberra, WA and Tasmania – but there is still disappointment about the loss of Rally Australia.
It will mean three years without an Australian leg of the world title, as the 2019 event at Coffs Harbour was cancelled because of bushfires, New Zealand was set for the Pacific round in 2020, and next year was intended to see a reinvention of Rally Australia at Bathurst.
“All-round, it’s disappointing. Yes, I’m disappointed, but not surprised from the coronavirus point of view,” Neal Bates, who heads the factory Gazoo Racing team for Toyota Australia, told Race News.
“Our drivers, Harry and Lewis, will be particularly disappointed because it’s their one chance to showcase their ability on home ground against the world’s best.
“Harry was already disappointed last year by the bushfire situation, as he had wrapped up the ARC and was going to be all-out in Rally Australia. And now everyone will have to wait for a couple more years.”
While the 2021 calendar is now set, at least provisionally, competition in this year’s WRC continues in Sardinia, where Spaniard Dani Sordo is leading for Hyundai.
It has also been confirmed that, in another revision to the 2020 timetable, the series will now conclude with Rally Monza in December. The all-tarmac sprint will be held in and around the classic Italian racetrack on the outskirts of Milan from December 4-6.
2021 WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR
|1||Monte-Carlo||21 – 24 January|
|2||Sweden||11 – 14 February|
|3||Croatia||22 – 25 April*|
|4||Portugal||20 – 23 May|
|5||Italy||3 – 6 June|
|6||Kenya||24 – 27 June|
|7||Estonia||15 – 18 July*|
|8||Finland||29 July – 1 August|
|9||UK||19 – 22 August*|
|10||Chile||9 – 12 September|
|11||Spain||14 – 17 October|
|12||Japan||11 – 14 November|