This weekend sees the opening round of the FIA's Asia Pacific Rally Championship where, of great concern, only four competitors are registered for the fledgling regional series.
New Zealand's Rally of Whangarei organisers will be thankful they have a round of the NZ Rally Championship to make the event worthwhile, but there must now be serious doubts about the future of the APRC.
Other countries hosting rounds of the series this year must also be nervously sweating on entry numbers to see if their events stand up financially as well.
For the past seven years, the Indian-based Team MRF has virtually been the glue that has held the APRC together, but with their withdrawal this year in order to launch a major WRC2 campaign in 2019, it leaves the championship not only devoid of entries, but severely lacking in top-line drivers.
Australian-based New Zealander, Mike Young, heads the entry list in his Cusco Racing Toyota Vitz, but he appears to have little serious opposition.
The championship is now a far, far cry from its former self, and a history that has seen the likes of Carlos Sainz, Ross Dunkerton, Possum Bourne, Kenneth Eriksson, Cody Crocker, Alister McRae and Chris Atkinson hold the trophy aloft.
Mike Young is the top seed at the Rally of Whangarei in his Cusco Racing Toyota Vitz.
Wayne Christie, recently elected President of the FIA Rallies Commission, and a resident New Zealander, is as concerned as any with the state of the championship.
"It certainly is a worry that only four entries have been received for Rally of Whangarei and I note this is consistent with recent years," Christie told RallySport Magazine.
"It will be disappointing not to have the MRF Skoda team there this year as they have been a mainstay for some years.
“The current state of the APRC is not unique though, with many regional championships around the world suffering from dropping entry levels.”
Wayne Christie, President of the FIA Rallies Commission.
Outside the World Rally Championship, only the European Rally Championship consistently attracts large field sizes.
"The issue of regional rally championships and what can be done to increase competitor numbers will be a major topic for discussion, review and problem-solving at my first Rally Commission meeting next week," he added.
"At this stage I don’t think I’m in a position to comment further as I don’t have more information at my fingertips, however, a review of the APRC results since 2002 shows that only on three occasions have championship entry numbers been more than 10.
"Although entries for a couple of years (2010 and 2011) were around 26, the number of competitors who scored points in more than one round was still only around 10 or less.
"This suggests that competitors only contested the one round, and most likely their local round.”
"It is interesting that, apart from Gaurav Gill and Cody Crocker, most of the APRC champions have come from outside the Asia Pacific region and have generally been part of a 'junior' or satellite team from Europe," Christie adds.
Cody Crocker is a multiple winner of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship.
"I suspect many of these teams are finding it cheaper and more competitive to compete in Europe, and no longer see the value they once did in sending teams to contest the APRC."
All of which is bad news for top level rallying Down Under, but is perhaps even more reason why Australian and New Zealand authorities need be working together for the betterment of the sport in this region.
A rebirth of the former Tasman Cup has been muted over the past 12 months, but at this stage it's all talk.
Hopefully talk evolves into action sooner rather than later, because rallying Down Under can't afford to be further isolated from the rest of the world.
We inexplicably lost Rally New Zealand, perhaps never to return, and if a similar fate befell Rally Australia, then who knows where this leaves rallying in our part of the world.
Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
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