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Forgive my ignorance, but before I did a search on the internet today, I knew absolutely nothing about rallying in Croatia. In fact, you could be forgiven for not knowing that they even rallied there, yet somehow, the country looks set to trump (pardon the pun) New Zealand for a round of next year’s World Rally Championship. On further investigation, I’ve discovered that Croatia is holding a round of the European Rally Trophy and the Central European Zone Championship in late September, and that their pre-entry list has 58 cars listed, including a few R5s, Lancer Evos, Impreza WRXs and good mix of everything else. Yet the WRC promoter’s looming decision to give Croatia a round of the WRC ahead of New Zealand is nothing less than bewildering, and is one that not even the sport’s leading drivers and media representatives can understand. Colin McMasterIf nothing else, we know that the decision will be based almost solely on money, and that this may help increase the popularity of the championship in Europe in years to come. But does that make it the right decision? New Zealand has an unquestionable WRC heritage. Croatia has none. The world’s best roads, a booming local rally scene with a host of new cars appearing at each event, and a dedicated and passionate team behind the scenes. It appeared that NZ was back, and that 2018 was the year. They even had current WRC star and NZ hero Hayden Paddon pushing hard for a return to the championship. All that, it seems, may have fallen on deaf ears. Mads OstbergRally fans from south of the Equator have been saying for years that the World Rally Championship needs more events outside Europe, and here was the perfect chance. With Rally Poland likely to be scrapped due to spectator control issues, it appeared that NZ’s return was imminent. Colin McMaster, ace lensman for McKlein Photography, perhaps put it best: “Everybody within #WRC wants a return to New Zealand. Roads, scenery, Auckland, sponsors and a local who can win it. Promotion material,” he said on his Twitter feed. And he’s right too. But once again, those rally made folk from the 'land of the long white cloud' have been overlooked (or so it seems).
“All I will say …. it’s not right - especially with all the hard work so many put in #gutted #maybetheend,” Hayden Paddon Tweeted.
If it is, the WRC is a poorer championship for it. And they’d better hope that Croatia can live up to expectations. - Peter Whitten
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