Wednesday's launch of the 2009 Rally Great Britain was overshadowed by the news that the deal between the event and the Welsh Assembly Government had collapsed. Rally GB chief executive Andrew Coe talks AUTOSPORT through the current situation for Britain's round of the World Rally Championship.
Q. I thought an agreement had been reached between Rally GB and the Welsh Assembly Government. If that has fallen through, does that mean it is back to square one?
Andrew Coe: It does, because we're still trying to resolve the issue. As far as we're concerned the World Motor Sport Council meeting in June addressed all of the issues that the WAG had in terminating the agreement. We're keen to resolve those issues, but as of today we have not been able to do that and we have been left with no option but to launch Rally Great Britain.
Q. Could that change? Could the deal be back on and we could have Wales Rally Great Britain next week?
AC: Unfortunately, that's not a question we can answer. Unless the issue is resolved, we will pursue Rally Great Britain as the title.
Q. How do you feel about this: the deal was done, the MSA was going to get back the £1.5 million it had put up to make sure the event ran this year and now it's off again...
AC: While I understand you talk to people, unfortunately a deal is never done until it's done and it was just a little premature to have said [the deal was done]. Having said that, we remain open to resolving the issue. We hope that can be achieved. We had a deadline today, with the launch already having been delayed by - in effect - three months, we had hoped matters would be resolved. We have not been able to do that, but we had a duty to the commercial side of the event. We had to put tickets on sale as soon as possible.
Q. What's the future of this event in Wales? Presumably the MSA can't fund it every year...
AC: Who knows. It's very difficult to look to the future clearly. We hope the issue will be resolved by the end of the year, either through sensible resolution or through the courts. We're confident 2010 will be in Wales or we'll move somewhere else. We've been looking at both options for some time now.
Q. How confident are you of running a 'Wales' Rally GB this year?
AC: It's impossible to say. The way the last four to five months have gone, it's been up and down, I wouldn't even hazard a guess. Whatever happens, though, this will be a good event. It's underwritten by the MSA and none of this changes what we have planned this year's rally. In some ways, we can now put the issue of legal matter into something of a box and say: 'That's something for the lawyers to take care of.'
Q. This has been a very significant story in Wales. How do you feel that the talk of Rally GB has focused on that story rather than the event itself?
AC: This is what we're hoping to do today. We want to focus on the launch and the big news from the event. Personally, I'm hoping we no longer have to talk about the other issue. The good news is that we're now moving on and leaving it for the lawyers to deal with. We're dealing with the good news and it's rather ironic that this year of all years we've resolved what has clearly been one of the key issues for the event - the infrastructure and the service park. This service park [in Cardiff] is unquestionably going to be one of - if not the - best in the world. It's fabulous.
By the time it comes to October and we kick this event off formally, all the other issues will be behind us. We're crossing our fingers and hoping the [World Rally Championship] goes down to the wire. For us, as organisers, we're focused on running a traditional event with a very high quality service park. Hopefully that's what people will write about. The other issue is a distraction; it's almost difficult to find any more to write about that.
Q. On that positive note, why has it taken so long to get the service park to Cardiff?
AC: It's really about doing what's best for the event. We were actually quite happy with the arrangement for some time [when service was based in Felindre, Swansea] before moving the event to SA1. We were keen to give it a try, it is a prestigious site. It's fair to say, SA1 didn't develop as quickly as we had believed it would, partly due to the current economic situation we find ourselves in; there was still building work going on when we were there which we were not aware would be the case when we elected to move from Felindre to SA1. The move here to Cardiff is, logistically, a better move for the event. Strategically, it was the right thing to do.
Q. With your talk of an increased focus on the event, does that mean you are withdrawing from the legal process?
AC: No. I'll still talk to the lawyers about where we are, there is still a legal case going on. But the deadline that we set ourselves of today - in launching the event - is something of a watershed. We had to take a decision yesterday, literally yesterday. We either went with Wales Rally Great Britain if we thought there was a strong possibility of resolution and Rally GB if that wasn't the case. The judgement is that it's Rally Great Britain, as of today.
Q. What derailed it this time?
AC: I can't talk about that. It's not appropriate. It's unfortunate, we had discussions, and all I can say is that we weren't able to reach a solution which was good for both sides.
Q. And what about the potential move to the north. We've heard meetings have taken place already, can you tell me any more about that?
AC: To be honest, again, I can't comment on that at all. We are looking at various options for this event. Until something firmer is in place, it would be inappropriate to comment. It's very sensitive.