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Next year’s NEC-sponsored Australian Rally Championship should be more user-friendly with the announcement that the Subaru Safari Tasmania has been withdrawn from the calendar, replaced by a new event on the NSW central coast.

The 2007 calendar, released today, includes the other traditional events – Coates Rally Queensland, the Quit Forest Rally, the Rally of Canberra, Toyota Rally South Australia, and the NGK Rally of Melbourne. Making an appearance for the first time is the Rally of the Great Lakes which will be based at Forster, north of Newcastle.

Not unexpectedly, the Subaru Safari Tasmania organizers have withdrawn their event which, while a popular round of the ARC since 1993, has been poorly supported over the last few years and the subject of a virtual veto by Tasmanian state competitors this year.

There has been much unrest between Octagon Australia, the promoters of the event, and leading Tasmanian competitors over several aspects of the event, which include safety issues. With most Tasmanian competitors boycotting the event in 2006 and the scenario likely to be repeated this year, Octagon were left with no alternative than to withdraw the event for financial reasons.

Subaru Safari Tasmania first became a round of the ARC in 1993 and has since run under several different titles including the Southern Safari and the Saxon Safari under previous Clerk of Course, Brian Richardson.

The event’s future finally became untenable because of the cost of running the event and the infrastructure required to maintain it at Australian Rally Championship standards. Low entry numbers in the past two years appear to have forced Octagon’s decision.

However Subaru Safari Chairman, Rob McGuire, said the company had investigated running the event as a tarmac round as opposed to the traditional gravel stages, but admitted that a crowded Tasmanian calendar and the annual running of Octagon’s other flagship event, Targa Tasmania, had precluded that.

“Following a viability study into the concept, the deficits seemed to outweigh the advantages,” he said. As well as Targa Tasmania, two other local tarmac events (run by Tony Wright), Rally Tasmania and Rallye Burnie, also place pressure on Tasmanian residents who have to put up with their roads being closed for tarmac events.

The withdrawal of Safari Tasmania will have a positive aspect on mainland competitors who will now not have the expense of shipping their cars across Bass Strait to compete.

Instead, the new Great Lakes event, centrally based on the east coast, should have a positive affect on competitor numbers for the September event. Under the direction of the highly credentialed Mike Bell, the Great Lakes Rally will also fill a void left by the demise of the Premier State Rally and the Bathurst Rally which both ran as ARC rounds for short periods (the Bathurst event for just one year), and will give NSW crews added impetus to compete in their home state event.

In addition to the two changes mentioned, the calendar will see a reshuffle of dates, with Coates Rally Queensland replacing West Australia’s Quit Forest Rally as the opening round. The Rally of Canberra follows the two events mentioned, then Toyota Rally South Australia moves forward to August 4 & 5, two weeks earlier than usual. The NGK Rally of Melbourne will be run around five weeks later than usual, on November 10 & 11, as the final ARC round.

The changes mentioned above will have the effect of making the 2007 NEC ARC a much more competitor-friendly series that should draw not only new competitors to the Championship but entice previous competitors out of the woodwork as well. RallySport Magazine hopes the 2007 Championship will be one of the best on record.

Round 1, Coates Rally Queensland, March 31 – April 1
Round 2, Quit Forest Rally, April 28 & 29
Round 3, Rally of Canberra, June 2 & 3
Round 4, Toyota Rally SA, August 4 & 5 (date to be confirmed)
Round 5, Rally of The Great Lakes, September 15 & 16
Round 6, NGK Rally of Melbourne, November 10 & 11 (date to be confirmed).

Photos: Sport The Library

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