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The announcement that Rally Australia will be held in Queensland from 2007 onwards raises more questions than it answers, and puts forward many possible scenarios for those speculating on the format of the event.

The Australian Rally Championship website states that “the event has found a new home in Queensland, to be based within 50 kilometres of Brisbane” and that “the most intriguing detail though concerns the precise location of the base for the rally and the proposed stages”.

Indeed that is the case, and where the event will be held has many in the rallying industry scratching their heads.

Realistically, the only area within a 50km radius of Brisbane with roads suitable for rallying is the Beerburrum Forest, near the Glass House Mountains on the Sunshine Coast, but according to RallySport Magazine correspondent Tom Smith, those roads are not ideally suited to a WRC round.

“The ARC round moved away from the Beerburrum area many years ago because of concerns over the security of the stages,” Smith said. “And the roads up there are very fast and straight and have been made in almost a grid-like format.”

On the event base, which it is reported will be “a permanent facility”, Smith says the only major centre in that region is Caboolture, which wouldn’t have the infrastructure to host a round of the World Rally Championship.

“Even if they based the event at Bribie Island, the accommodation there is mainly of the holiday apartment style, not the luxury hotel style that WRC rounds have been traditionally based out of,” Smith added. “Caloundra or Mooloolaba possibly swings back into the picture, but only because those centres are at the bottom end of the Sunshine Coast.”

As well as the style of roads, it is questionable if there would be enough roads in that area to hold a full WRC round. North of the Glass House Mountains, the Kenilworth forest complex is the next closest, around 90km from Brisbane, followed by the Imbil area which currently hosts Queensland’s round of the ARC.

South of Brisbane provides even fewer options. The Gold Coast is further than 50km from the state capital, but much of the land in that area has long been taken over by housing and industry.

Former Rally Australia Clerk of Course, Garry Connelly, is believed to be the man leading the charge for the event, and as a Queenslander, he has had a long history with events in that area, going back to the 1970s when the Lutwyche Shopping Centre Rally was a round of the ARC, and famous stages like ‘Big Balls’ were part of the attraction.

But will the event be gravel? That’s a curve ball that has been bandied around since the announcement. It has been revealed that the new agreement in Queensland is for five years, with two further five-year options – a considerable commitment given that the event has a: never been run, and b: is not even a round of the WRC next year.

Next year will see the debut of the SunCoast Classic tarmac rally, based at Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. While this event may not be the ‘trial event’ that will need to be run to qualify for a round of the WRC and is based around 160km north of Brisbane, it would use many of the same roads should Rally Australia become a tarmac event.

Are we drawing a long bow? Most definitely, but there are reasons to wonder. Australian rallying has long bemoaned the lack of tarmac rallies in the country, which have hampered drivers such as Chris Atkinson when they entered the WRC, and this would fill that void.

And as a matter of interest, those close to Atkinson recently confirmed to RallySport Magazine that the Queenslander would be competing in the SunCoast Classic next year, driving a Mazda RX3.

We’ll let you draw your own conclusions until further details are announced, but these aren’t expected until the final WA-based Rally Australia in October. In the meantime, there’s plenty to ponder, and the lack of information supplied so far means that the rumour mill will be working overtime until firm details are announced.

- Peter Whitten

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