Croatia has been given the green light of approval by both the FIA and the WRC Promoter, and by the looks of it, the mediterranean country should have its place in the 2019 calendar. The organisers will know by the end of the year what date the 2018 edition of the Croatia Rally will take place, as an official WRC candidate. If you were to crunch the numbers, more than 700 million people watch the World championship on an annual basis, of which there are four million fans live right at the special stages. More than 1350 officially credentialed media members cover the WRC, which leads to the creation of more than 12,000 hours of televised content, and the WRC channel is broadcasted in 155 countries worldwide. This is just a part of the numbers and statistics that make the WRC the potentially largest event ever held in Croatia.
Croatia could have had its WRC event already in 2018, only to be beat by Turkey. Turkey’s organisers have gathered all the necessary licences and state guarantees in a week’s time, as well as signing a contract with the WRC promoter that locks up a date in September, that was eyed by Croatia’s organisers. Croatia was offered a date in July 2018, which was unacceptable due to it being the high tourist season. April, May, early June, late September and October are the dates Croatia’s organisers are looking for.
The Croatia Rally came from the INA Delta Rally, which moved to Istria as part of the European Rally Championship in 2013. Automobile Clubs D.T. from Poreč, Cro Dakar Team from Zagreb and Delta Sport from Zagreb, with constant support from the President of the Croatian Automobile and Karting Federation (HAKS) Matko Bolanča, the Vice President of HAKS Domagoj Kamenski and the general secretary of HAKS Zrinko Gregurek, took pen to paper when it came to bringing the WRC to Croatia. With great gratitude to Zrinko Gregurek, Croatia’s beauty, the well established tourist infrastructure and not to forget, the slippery, hillside, tight and full of corners roads of Istria and Kvarner, as well as the persistence and dedication of Daniel Šaškin and Marin Frčko, the project’s managers and their team, the World Rally Championship is just around the corner.
Mr. Zrinko Gregurek is one of 14 members of the FIA World Motorsport Council, which is the highest governing body of the FIA, which makes him the highest ranked Croat in an international sports federation. His position helped speed up and actually made sure that the WRC’s and FIA’s most important people come to Croatia to have them presented our ideas and possibilities. During a meeting in Croatian Government, Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković asked just one simple question, what he needed to do to make sure Croatia gets a World Rally Championship. The head members of the WRC and FIA spent three days in Croatia, following which they loved what they’ve been shown, what they’ve heard and what they’ve seen. Oliver Ciesla, the director general of the WRC Promoter, sent a letter proving just that.
Edi Štifanić, former mayor of the city of Poreč, was the first to recognise the potential of the Croatia Rally, all the way back in 2013. With great support from the board director of Valamar, Željko Kukurin and Dalibor Bilić from B-Travel, the idea took its first steps to its realisation. The project also carries great support from the current mayor of Poreč Loris Peršurić, the mayor of Pula Boris Miletić and the governor of Istria Valter Flego. The above mentioned people are the backbone of the project as they were the first to recognise the power and strength of the WRC, as well as the great effect it would have on the tourism and economy of Croatia. A wish to join in on the project came from the chairmen of the cities of Umag, Pazin and Rovinj as well. The city of Buzet and its mayor Siniša Žulić have given the project continued support as well. The legendary Buzet hill climb race is further proof of how the people of Istria are capable of organising octane spectacles on a worldwide level. Opatija and Rijeka, which are home to the iconic tracks Grobnik and Preluk, need no special introduction. The vision and idea in agreement with mayor of Pula is to have to have the start of WRC Croatia Rally in the ancient Pula amphitheatre, with over 1000 km of special stages spanned over four days all throughout Istria and parts of Kvarner. Islands of Cres and Lošinj are still pending as possible locations of part of the programme.
The Croatia Rally’s organising committee have received continuous support from the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, Croatia’s Central Stage Office for Sport, lead by Janica Kostelić, as well as letters of approval by the Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković, the Ministry of Tourism and the Croatian Olympic Committee.
The Croatian National Turist Board will, play a key part in bringing the WRC to Croatia for the following few months play, as the FIA and the WRC Promotor set the condition to award a country with a WRC event only with the assistance of a state run institution. Croatia’s Minister of Tourism Gari Capelli and the new director of the Croatian National Tourist Board Kristijan Staničić confirmed their strong interest in this project as well as shown readiness to work together because, as they put it, the prolongation of the tourist season has so thus far been largely unsuccessful, and success in that area can be achieved only with new entertainment and sports events before and after the high season. With the fulfilment of these conditions, Croatia will finally be able to pride itself on its year-round high tourism numbers, instead of just a multiple month season.
The Pula Faculty of Economics and Tourism lead by prof. dr. sc. Robert Zenzerović, the fund for ethic financing from Zagreb and several staff members of the economics and sports management department of Zagreb’s sports university have taken multiple studies on the profitability of the project and using the statistics from the other WRC events, proved of how great profit this project would be for Croatia. In the most conservative estimate generated, the expenses would be in the 22 million Euro range, where the direct profit for the state, only through the sales tax, would be at least four million euros. The indirect revenue through media outlets would be a 41 million euros!
The WRC’s official statistics from Portugal have been nearly unbelievable. Portugal’s 2016 event was followed live by 910,000 people (50% of which were foreigners, of which just a half came from the neighbouring country of Spain). The direct revenue for the Portuguese economy was an impressive 67,6 million euros, while the indirect revenue was 61,7 million euros. The WRC event alone gives Portugal 1,5 overnight stays. Croatia has the potential to, as the world’s fastest growing tourist destination, reach Portugal’s numbers in the foreseeable future.
The Croatian WRC event would definitely start in Istria and Kvarner, while it is an outspoken wish of the organisers to move the event around Croatia every few years. Interest was already shown by the Tourist Board of the Šibenik-Knin county, while the organisers are eyeing a Slavonia event as well, more specifically to Vukovar, Vinkovci and Osijek. Bringing almost half of the world’s automobile industry to Croatia is not just sports, tourism and entertainment. One day, with the right guidance and support from the government it can become much more. The WRC is already at our doorstep, let’s wish it a warm welcome!
Could WRC alongside economy wellbeing bring Croatia a new rebirth to motorsport which has been in constant crisis for more than a decade? The WRC is already at our doorstep, let’s wish it a warm welcome!