China Rally hopes to win FIA stamp for 1999 World Championship
The 555 Hong Kong to Beijing Rally which will be staged for the last time in October this year, will be replaced by a new event next year which organisers hope will have World Rally Championship status within two or three years.
To be staged north of Beijing and using the Great Wall as an historical backdrop, the new China Rally is slated for October next year with an alternate date in July also proposed.
Officials from the Hong Kong Automobile Association and the Confederation of Automobile Sport of the People's Republic of China began looking at sites in March this year and have earmarked an area that will feature between 400-420 kilometres of special stages over three days.
'We are reluctant to be specific about the exact site of the rally at this stage until we have satisfied officials from the Rally Commission of the FIA [international motorsports' governing body],' chief executive officer of the HKAA, Kendy Chan said yesterday.
Chan was in Beijing last week where he spoke with the president of the FIA's Rally Commission, Guy Goutard from France.
Goutard inspected the site and spent time briefing Chinese mainland officials on the latest FIA rules and regulations. Further FIA lectures are planned between now and the staging of the event.
Chan said Goutard was 'impressed with what we have done so far'.
Another inspection by officials of the Rally Commission will be held at the end of the 555 Hong Kong to Beijing Rally which begins with a super special stage at Stonecutters Island on October 19 and will end in the Chinese capital on October 25.
The 'all gravel stage rally' will comply with all the latest FIA regulations and Chan is optimistic that the event will be able to seek inclusion in the World Rally Championship by as early as 1999.
Chan expects the event to remain a round of the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, status currently held by the 555 Hong Kong to Beijing event.
'The Rally Commission knows the type of work we have done in the past to arrange the Hong Kong to Beijing and I'm confident we will remain as a round of the Asia-Pacific,' Chan said.
He said final confirmation could come in October after the next FIA inspection.
Much thought has gone into the selection of a suitable venue for China's first 'cloverleaf' style rally.
Sites on Hainan Island, Shanghai, Guangdong Province and Tianjin had all been considered in the past but Beijing was eventually voted the best venue.
'The organisers believe that it is vital to have an infrastructure up to international standards to hold an event which will eventually have World Rally Championship status,' Chan explained.
'Beijing best satisfied the criteria,' he added.
The 555 Hong Kong to Beijing is one of the few 'straight-line' rallies remaining in the world and no longer satisfies FIA regulations.
The 3,800-kilometre rally also placed a huge burden on teams both financially and logistically with large numbers of service crew needed to keep pace with the event.
The rally was first staged in 1986 with subsequent edits in 1987, '88, '93, '94 and '95.
BAT, the manufacturers of the 555 brand, have been involved with the event since its inception and will continue their association with rallying on the mainland by also sponsoring next year's event.