The sport of rallycross is set to make a high-profile return to the New Zealand motorsport calendar with an international event planned for Mt Maunganui’s ASB Baypark Stadium in 2016.
International stars will compete against New Zealand’s best rally drivers over two days of high-speed competition in the inaugural New Zealand International Rallycross event over the February 27-28 weekend.
Longtime motorsport promoter Ron Dixon – father of IndyCar champion Scott Dixon – announced the plans for an under-lights rallycross spectacular at Baypark.
Mr Dixon is partnering with Bay Venues and Motorsport BOP on the two-day event which would use a mixed surface 1.5km track and feature a series of quick-fire heat races leading to a final.
Circuit and stadium-based rallycross events have gained huge followings in Europe and North America in recent years, Mr Dixon says.
He is aiming to bring the intense action of international rallycross to the Baypark venue.
In rallycross, fields of between six and 10 cars race on a specially prepared circuit combining tarseal and gravel sections along with jumps and other obstacles.
It has boomed in Europe and North America in recent years and Australia is now re-introducing the sport.
“Rallycross was developed in Europe several decades ago as a faster-paced and more spectator-friendly alternative to traditional rallying,” said Mr Dixon.
“It’s now recognised at the highest level with its own FIA World Rallycross Championship, with Petter Solberg – a former WRC driver who is hugely popular with New Zealanders – winning the inaugural World Rallycross title in 2014.”
Rallycross events were staged in New Zealand from the early 1970s until the mid-1980s at several race circuit venues and most prominently on a purpose-built track at Hamilton’s Mystery Creek.
Interest in the sport is now being rekindled with a rallycross track under construction at the Highlands Motorsport Park complex at Cromwell.
Mr Dixon has run rallycross events previously in the United States and hopes to attract significant numbers of competitors to entertain a potential audience of 17,000 in ASB Baypark Stadium.
“Most of the competitors will be New Zealand rally drivers and competitors with special hillclimb cars and some classes for off-road racing cars and trucks. I’ve being talking to car clubs and so far the response is very favourable.
“But I’m also working to have a couple of high-profile international drivers there as well.”
To create the 1.5km track length and provide the tarmac element necessary for rallycross, the track will run through the speedway pit gate into the sealed pit area and return to the arena via a ramp and through a gap in the speedway safety fencing near the southern end ticket booths. The action outside the arena will be shown on a big screen.
Mr Dixon’s experience in promoting rallycross came when he was chief executive of West Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida.
He says the events there attracted good competitor numbers but modest crowds and convinced him a stadium environment would be more successful.
“Baypark is the only stadium in New Zealand which has everything on site,” said Mr Dixon.
“I went to the second Jetsprint event this year and it was fantastic. It confirmed all my feelings about stadiums being the ideal venue for this type of sporting event.
“Their event is a much bigger undertaking. I don’t have to dig a hole and fill it with water and then put it all back again.”
Mr Dixon estimates track set-up and tear-down would take place two days either side of the rallycross event.
The local car club – Motorsport Bay of Plenty Inc. – will provide the key officials and marshals to staff the event.
The February 27-28 rallycross date means a change to the recently released 2015-16 Baypark Speedway calendar, which had the BOP Super Saloon Car Champs scheduled on Saturday February 27.
Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby was pleased to see the rallycross event was on the cards for Tauranga.
“Particularly in regards to Baypark, which is becoming an adrenalin venue with other motorsports,” Mr Crosby said.
“For the Rallycross to come to Tauranga will be a great start for a long and successful event strategy.”