Croatia Rally is without a doubt one of the highlights of Croatian motorsports season, together with FIA European Hillclimb championship round in Buzet. As such, we were very happy when Eurosport Events took over the ERC, and the promise of top European rally crews and teams, coupled with superb TV coverage, finally meant that decades of hard work put into the organization of this event are paying off. However, it is not all going smoothly over here, far from it. We, the fans and general public, have no idea what’s going on behind the closed door – for the last three years, rally was based in Rijeka and now, without any announcement, it was moved to Poreč, while at the same time switching from June to September slot in ERC calendar.
Croatian Motorsport Federation (HAKS) is in total radio silence mode, but is also very busy, judging from the amount of changes going on behind the curtain. Recently, they finally decided to issue several statements to media, but again, these are not saying anything, and even worse, they are spreading false information. In the latest case, HAKS president, Mr. Matko Bolanča said City of Rijeka’s inability to support the event was the main reason for new location. Well, not according to Rijeka’s mayor, who quickly dismissed such accusations. Let’s see what both parties had to say in this matter.
First up, Mr. Bolanča and excerpts from his interview to Croatian media.
“This year Croatia Rally will be much larger compared to 2012, with more crews expected on entry list. At the same time, rally will also be more expensive to organize compared to last year because of the new profile of the European Rally Championship and the arrival of new promoter, Eurosport.”
“In September 2012, City of Rijeka was informed of our intention to continue co-operation and to keep Croatia Rally at the same location in and around Rijeka, where it took place for the last three years. Unfortunately, City of Rijeka was not able to commit to our offer and the rally, lacking both financial and infrastructural means”, HAKS president Matko Bolanča said in recent interview to Croatian sports daily, Sportske Novosti.
It did not take long before the Rijeka’s officials issued first replies. Asked to comment on the allegations issued by president of HAKS, City of Rijeka mayor, Vojko Obersnel, issued the following statement.
“First of all, I would like to emphasize the fact that City of Rijeka was not officially informed of the decision to move rally from our city to Poreč – instead, we learned about it from the media. Based on our three year co-operation and our support for the rally in times when it was barely saved from cancellation, we believe we were entitled to official notification as a minimum.”
“Furthermore, and based on the statements by HAKS president Mr. Bolanča, we cannot accept the allegations claiming City of Rijeka’s inability to support the rally, even with new and increased costs. I would like to remind the public that Rijeka and neighboring Opatija will host very important events this year, for example traditional music show Porin and the NEXPO conference and we expect over 2000 participants in these events – Rijeka and Opatija have more than enough resources to accommodate all participants of Croatia Rally. The fact that Croatia Rally ranked 3rd among all events of European Rally Championship in 2012, according to the FIA, proves we had no problems in providing the best logistic support to this event, and we are very proud of the results of our dedication and work.”
“In response to HAKS’ request to continue co-operation we were able to provide equal terms under which rally was organized for the past three years. More importantly, we were able to confirm our commitments while at the same time keep a realistic and responsible view on the budget planning for 2013. Of course, we were ready to engage in further activities and campaigns to secure additional financial support and backing needed to meet the new standards of the ERC. In other words, City of Rijeka’s alleged lack of support and capabilities to organize this event are not the reasons behind HAKS’ decision to move the event to new location – it is obvious reasons lie in unknown interests of the HAKS itself”, Mr. Vojko Obersnel, Mayor of City of Rijeka said in official response to Mr. Bolanča’s interview claims.
What can we take out from all this? Nothing much, really. There is still no official information about 2013 Croatia Rally in Croatian media, and by no, I mean NO. Total silence. Croatian public is not officially aware Eurosport took over the promotion of the ERC. Only die-hard fans know what this means, and are eager to see some of the best crews and teams in the world, but there is nothing coming out of HAKS at all. There was no official announcement about the change of location, and the switch from June to September was also shrouded in secrecy.
To take things even further. In few VERY rare statements, HAKS did inform Croatian public that rally will take place in September, but only because Eurosport requested that change. Well, not according to Mr. Jean-Louis Dauger interview in this very blog, in which Operations Director of Eurosport Events said Croatian round got a new slot in calendar based on the request issued by HAKS!
For a very long time now, Mr. Zrinko Gregurek, HAKS’ secretary, is rumoured to be behind all the drama surrounding the Croatia Rally. Complete lack of transparency in running not only HAKS but Croatian motorsports in general raised many concerns in Croatia, and more often than not you can hear allegations about the personal interests of Mr. Gregurek and his close business partners, again, not only concerning Croatia Rally. At the same time, Mr. Gregurek claims to have support from highest instances of the FIA, namely president Jean Todt. It is no secret Mr. Gregurek was important part of president Todt’s lobbying party during the elections for new president of the FIA, and according to rumours (which is only thing Croatian motorsport public can rely to in total absence of official information), that secured him the freedom to pursue his own interests within the FIA and HAKS. Allegations run far and wide, as usual when official info is scarce, and rumours are handy.
Rally has a huge following in Croatia, and I can confirm we were overjoyed when Eurosport Events took over the promotion side of the series. But we cannot help but fear the silence and total lack of communication by the HAKS, not only towards the fans, but media as well.