RALLY SWEDEN’S FUTURE IN DOUBT
Showpiece event faces battle over funding
Rally Sweden bosses could be on the verge of quitting the world championship in a row over a hike in fees payable to WRC Promoter.
Glen Olsson, boss of the WRC’S only snow round, told Motorsport News the terms on offer from the promoter are currently unworkable for the Karlstadbased event, which has been part of the World Rally Championship since its inception back in 1973. And it’s both the long and shortterm future for the WRC’S winter rally that hangs in the balance this week, with warm weather impacting and still possibly forcing the cancellation of Rally Sweden ( see sidebar).
Olsson said: “We’re in discussions with the promoter over the issue of money. We are supposed to pay more and we haven’t been able to reach agreement. That’s where we are at the moment.
“It’s all about getting a fair deal or a deal that we can live with. We need a contract which gives us enough rights to make a business out of it. If we can’t get that then I don’t believe that we can continue [to run Rally Sweden].
“We had quite a struggle to clear up the financial past for this event. When I first started, the rally was about bankrupt and we had to work out the finance all over again. Since then we have worked hard to raise the revenue and since we are starting to get things in order, we would like to make a little money out of this – not just give it all to WRC Promoter and the FIA. A fair deal is all we are asking for.”
Rally Sweden was one of the founding events in the WRC and has been ever-present on the calendar since 2010, having been rotated with Norway for a single season in 2009.
It has, however, been in a precarious financial position, running without a major sponsor for several years.
Sweden has managed to offset some of its costs by sharing its WRC round with Norway. As has become tradition in recent seasons, the opening day of competition this week will take place across the border, courtesy of an ongoing working relationship which brings world championship rallying to two countries which couldn’t afford to do it on their own.
“We’re not like Rally GB,” said Olsson. “We don’t have £1.5 million coming from a government like Wales. I would like a reasonable level of understanding from the promoter about our position. I believe this event adds value to the championship and it helps to build the championship. I hope we can be in a position to find agreement, but we’re in two
different worlds. We’re on our own here and we can’t just keep pouring money in.”
There have been rumours of a possible rival winter event coming onto the calendar from Canada and Japan, but WRC Promoter’s Oliver Ciesla denied there were any active discussions regarding a replacement for Sweden.
Ciesla also denied there was any immediate timeframe for discussions with Rally Sweden – despite suggestions agreement had to be reached before the end of the event on Sunday.
He told MN: “That’s absolute nonsense. Agreement for all events to be included for 2017 must be signed in September and not before. Rally Sweden is under no obligation to do anything next week. There’s nothing I can talk about regarding Sweden and Norway, except to say that this is a rally which does bring value to the championship; there’s good support here and it’s a brand which is delivering a lot of what we want. Sweden works for this championship.
“As for discussions with other rallies, there are no candidate winter events planned this year.”
Ciesla, who visited Finland’s Arctic Lapland Rally last month, added that he was keen to see more snow rallies on the calendar, with good potential for two winter events on the schedule for the first time since 2007, when Sweden and Rally Norway ran on consecutive weekends.
“The rally in Lapland was fantastic,” he said. “What an adventure it was – being able to follow the rally on a snowmobile and seeing some of the pictures coming from that event was amazing. Okay, we’re not going to get 700,000 fans attending these rallies, but the visual impacts were second to none.
“We have talked to Canada, Japan and Russia in the past and we are in the ideas stage now for bringing a second winter rally to the calendar. We are in a unique position where we can showcase these snow and ice conditions at a world championship level; nobody else can do this and we have to look to exploit this. If we can’t make that happen for 2017 then let’s do it in 2018.”
Not keen on running back-to- back events like in 2007, Ciesla said: “Why not come to Sweden, then go to Mexico and then go back to another snow rally. This would be a contrast and something that would really add to the story.”
Ciesla ruled the Arctic Lapland Rally out of contention, pointing out that two events in one country – Finland – wouldn’t work.
The absence of another WRC-ready snow event will strengthen Sweden’s hand in the short term, but that position won’t last forever with interest in hosting rounds of the world championship building in countries like Canada, Russia and Japan – all of whom have snow-sure roads.
Currently the championship’s most successful driver on winter rallies, Jari-matti Latvala admitted he would be delighted to see more snow.
“I love to drive on this surface,” said the factory Volkswagen pilot. “I can imagine the promoter would be keen to see more. While us drivers enjoy driving on asphalt, the spectacle isn’t the same as when you are sliding sideways all of the time like you are on snow.”
Rally Sweden has run every year since 2010