If the Australian Rally Championship wants to move with the times and become relevant in the sporting media, it might be time to take a leaf out of the A League’s playbook and sign Craig Lowndes up to drive a full-spec R5 or AP4 car in 2019. Allow me, if you will, a little time to fantasise about the potential of putting a big name sporting star in a rally car for a full season. As far-fetched as it may sound, it’s at least worth considering. Global superstar and Olympic gold medallist, Usain Bolt, recently signed a deal to try out for the Central Coast Mariners in Australian soccer’s A League competition. Bolt’s six-week trial is no guarantee that he’ll get a game, but already it’s paying huge dividends for the Mariners and, by association, the A League.
Should the Jamaican star show enough to make the final squad, team owner Mike Charlesworth will shell out a cool $3 million to Bolt when his contract is signed.
Huge money indeed, but it’s clear to see that it’s a masterstroke from Charlesworth.

Usain Bolt played his first game for the Central Coast Mariners last week.

Battling to stay relevant with the league’s big teams, such as Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, the sudden interest in the Mariners saw almost 10,000 fans show up for Bolt’s first trial game last week. The match was against a team of Central Coast amateurs, and Bolt hardly dominated in his 21 minutes on the field, but the snowball has started rolling. A tweet from the club showing his first possession for the team has been viewed over 1.2 million times, and you can only imagine what’s happening at the merchandise stand, with Bolt jerseys no doubt flying out the door. Australian soccer’s governing body, the FFA, has yet to commit any money towards Bolt’s contract, but it’s a win-win for soccer in Australia if he makes the grade, and they’d be foolish not to support it.
Harry Bates Canberra

Seeing Craig Lowndes in a full-spec AP4 car would do wonders for the profile of Australian rallying. Photo: Luke Whitten

For rallying, it’s a scenario worth considering.
Craig Lowndes will retire from full-time Supercar driving at the end of this season, and putting him a rally car for a full season of the ARC would do wonders for the promotion of the sport.
Of course Lowndes may have no interest, his Holden contract may not allow it, and he may not be any good on the gravel, but that doesn’t mean another sportsperson of his ilk couldn’t be enticed. Rallying usually only receives mainstream media coverage when there’s a major crash or tragedy, with even Rally Australia struggling to hit the airwaves.
A driver like Lowndes would not only ensure coverage Australia wide, but would potential increase spectator numbers three-fold, with new sponsors to the sport soon following suit.
It's worked well in New Zealand, with Greg Murphy increasing publicity of the NZRC through his involvement in the championship over the past two or three seasons. As mentioned at the start of this article, it’s all just a fantasy, but surely it’s worth considering? As good as Eli Evans, Harry Bates and Molly Taylor are, they aren’t household names. For rallying to take the next step, it might be time the championship and some well-funded teams started thinking outside the box. It’s food for thought.
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