Rally Estonia organizer Tarmo Hõbe thinks that the first-ever World Rally Championship (WRC) held in Estonia (September 4-6) can be of noteworthy importance, setting a foundation for future WRC rounds to be held in the country.
Hõbe told Betsafe's podcast that Estonia was provided the extraordinary opportunity to host a world rally because of the coronavirus pandemic, which means peace has to be made with all risks and 150 people are actively working to make the Estonian round of the WRC restart the best one of the season.
The magnitude of the event is best noticed when considering the size of the organizational team. "Before June 5, the Rally Estonia consisted of about 20 core members, now there are around 150 people working 18-20 hours a day to host a world-class rally round. 2,500 people are involved in hosting the event on rally week."
Hõbe said the goal is to host Rally Estonia in a way it has never before been hosted. "The sport is certainly the core and heart but we must develop entertainment and infrastructure around it to offer something for the whole family, not just for rally fans," he explained. A total of 16,000 rally passes have been sold and the majority of spectators will come from Estonia.
Hõbe continued: "The pandemic has given us the chance to organize the event and the coronavirus can take it from us as well. Still, our wish has been to have spectators present and to implement the capacity of both our team and the state. We have created 36 separate areas where people can sufficiently distance from one another, but still enjoy the rally both live and from screens."
Organizing a WRC round in the current conditions is complicated enough, especially when considering the team only had three months to do so. Rally Estonia has already renovated 26 km of roads and Hõbe says the route is world class. Next week, the construction of seating will begin.
Hõbe noted: "In the grand scheme, FIA, the promoter, sets all regulations but we must offer respective solutions. In the time frame now, it has not been a simple exercise but I do dare say so myself that there is no organization in Estonia, or the world, that could organize the event better."
The organizer thinks the spectator restrictions are a good opportunity for the organizational team to prepare for bigger events going forward. 16,000 passes were sold this year, but a regular situation would bring 80,000-100,000 spectators to Estonia for the event.
Hõbe concluded: "All spectators are 'chipped', meaning we know who is our guest and how they move. That information is critical to ensure safety during the event, but it can also be analyzed in the future and use the data to organize events."
First ever WRC round to be held in Estonia
Rally Estonia will be held on September 4-6, in South Estonia. This will mark the return of the currently suspended WRC season, and will make Estonia the 33rd country to host a WRC round since the series started in 1973.
The round will span three days and will be held in traditional Rally Estonia regions in Tartu and Southern Estonia such as Kanepi, Kambja, Otepää and Elva.
A round of the Junior WRC season will also be held during that time, as the series follows the schedule of the full WRC. 26-year old Estonian Ken Torn currently holds third place in the season so far, in that series, with 15 points, chasing second place Latvian Martins Sesks (19 points) and Swedish Tom Kristensson (28 points).
WRC has already canceled Rally de Portugal, Rally Kenya, Rally Finland, Rally New Zealand, Wales Rally GB and Rally Japan 2020. Additionally, Rally of Argentina and Rally d'Italia have been postponed, leaving only the Turkish, German, Welsh, and Japanese rounds remaining on the schedule.
WRC officials also presented an updated schedule for the rest of the WRC season. Rally Estonia will be followed by Rally Turkey on September 24-27, Rally of Germany on October 15-18 and Rally d'Italia on October 29-November 1. The Ypres Rally Belgium was added recently, set to take place on November 19-22.
According to the International Automobile Federation (FIA), seven rounds of the season have to be completed to decide the title. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, three rounds were completed, which has led the association to look into alternative options.
France's Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) currently leads the series. Ott Tänak of Estonia (Hyundai) is reigning drivers' champion. Tänak won last year's series with Toyota.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste