Japan poised to join WRC 2019 calendar

Next year’s World Rally Championship looks set for two additional long-haul events, with Rally Japan expected to join Chile on a new-look 2019 calendar.

Japan will run a candidate event in November, but Motorsport.com’s sources have indicated the event will be included on the provisional calendar presented to the FIA in the autumn.

WRC Promoter has always made it clear next year’s series will go from 13 to 14 rounds, but Japan’s first return since 2010 will force out one of the European rallies – sources predict that will be the Tour de Corse.

The Bastia-based event is unpopular with the teams for the logistical expense in getting there and the limited number of fans attending.

The organisers of the Tour de Corse declined to comment when contacted by Motorsport.com.

With Rally Turkey returning this year and the Safari expected back in 2020, WRC Promoter will introduce four new events in just three seasons – all of them at the very edge of or outside Europe.

Getting Japan in place in 2019 is understood to be a key part of Japan’s efforts to raise its sporting profile ahead of the summer Olympics, to be held in Tokyo, 2020. The all-new Rally Japan will shift south from its former base on Hokkaido, running on the nation’s main island closer to Tokyo.

While WRC Promoter is keen to see the number of rallies on the calendar raised to 15, the teams have made clear they’re not ready for that jump yet.

One source said: “Fifteen rallies will be coming in the future, but it’s too soon for now. What we need now is for everybody to be getting something from the championship. The teams have been by paid by the promoter for Turkey; it’s part of the agreement [with Turkey] that there’s a fee for them to cover some of the logistics.

“That’s a multi-year agreement as well, so the teams will be paid as long as we’re going to Turkey. The promoter has to make that happen, it’s keen to make a new funding model work where rallies have to pay their way – just as they do in Formula 1. It will be the same agreement with Chile, Japan and Safari when they arrive.

:The promoter has to have the ability to make a business out of the championship. Without that, what’s in it for them and what do they have to promote. But it’s a balance – a fine line that they’re treading well now.

“The guys at WRC Promoter really understand the sport now and they understand the importance of the iconic events: the Montes, the Finland, the GBs; these are the rallies which lead the television coverage and provide the historical backbone to the series.”

As part of its two-year review, WRC Promoter has put every event under the microscope, and sources suggest the results have revealed events like Corsica and Rally Germany are struggling to make the strongest financial case moving forward.

FIA president Jean Todt was joined by WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla in Paris to sign a promotion agreement with the organisers of the Safari Rally late last month.

A Nairobi-based candidate event will run in March or April next season.

Eleven rallies – of which eight are outside Europe – have an active interest in the WRC, placing more pressure than ever on the existing rallies of the championship.

Croatia is busy rebuilding a case for a WRC round, with government funding, but a planned Zagreb-based event is not believed to be among the 11, its case not helped by the fact that it falls within Europe.

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