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Despite an Australian Rally Championship calendar for 2007 being released just weeks ago, the series is already on shaky ground with the possible cancellation of a second round, the NGK Rally of Melbourne, and the distinct threat that others may follow.

Already there have been two casualties from the traditional ARC calendar, and rumours persist that all is not well with the viability of a number of other rounds.

Subaru Safari Tasmania was the first casualty, albeit before the calendar was released, the Octagon Australia-funded event failing to attract sufficient competitors or spectators last year to generate a profit to sustain it.

While the six-round championship retained the status quo as far as numbers were concerned with the addition of a new NSW event, the Great Lakes Rally, based on the central coast, the announcement that the NGK Rally of Melbourne’s heads, Neil Cuthbert and Justin Hunt, would no longer promote the event, came as no surprise.

The event, which took over from the Healesville Stages under the direction of Glenn  Cuthbert, had grown to be one of the best-organised rounds on the ARC calendar, but its future was left up in the air after the death of Cuthbert just days before the 2002 event. Glenn Cuthbert’s brother, Neil, and former Rally Australia key official, Justin Hunt, took over the reigns, running it successfully until this year.

However it seems that the task of running an ARC round has become too demanding, Cuthbert and Hunt claiming that the disruption of their family life finally became intolerable, causing them to step aside. If a promoter cannot be found to resuscitate the rally, the ARC will be back to five rounds.

But that may not be the end of promoters pulling their ARC event – RallySport Magazine has it on good authority that the future of at least one other ARC event is in jeopardy, while organizers of yet another round are unhappy with the financial loss sustained on their 2006 event.

One of these events is believed to be in last-minute negotiations to save it from extinction after an audit revealed that infrastructure costs were crippling it.

The long term future of the Australian Rally Championship is in the balance. The ARC is made up of a mix of private individuals trying desperately to promote and run their events from their own pockets, car clubs either investing all their manpower and resources to make it happen, or private companies such as Octagon taking the control of events for financial gain. As it stands at the present time, it seems neither plan is working.

Increasingly it seems that the costs involved in staging an ARC round are becoming intolerable, either with or without the support of a naming rights sponsor. Couple that with decreasing entry numbers and an easily-measureable decline in the volume of spectators, and the picture starts to look very grim.

All of a sudden, our National Championship has gone from being one of the best in the world to a Series that is struggling to survive. It does not bear thinking about what the future of the ARC holds should another round fall over.

There are many schools of thought on why the ARC is in such a parlous state, but much of it must come down to the lack of spectacle and the lack of excitement generated by the leading cars. There’s no denying that the top crews are doing their best and are as fast as ever, but they are failing to draw spectators into the forests to watch.

Other categories that are visually and aurally exciting have been largely ignored by ARCom to the ultimate detriment of the sport.

As we have suggested before, messing around with changes to the edges of the sport will achieve nothing. The sport needs to start with a clean sheet of paper before the few remaining events that we have left also depart the scene.

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