October 11, 2020 – Big news in the auto-racing world, as the World Rally Championship is coming to Croatia at the end of April next year!
Goran Rihelj of HRTuirzam reports that the World Motorsport Council, the FIA World Automobile Federation council, confirmed that the Croatia Rally is included in the calendar of the World Rally Championship (WRC) for 2021. Croatia will host one of the world’s most attractive sports events from April 22 to 25, 2021.
The start and finish of the race will be in Zagreb, and it will be driven on the local roads of Zagreb, Karlovac and Krapina-Zagorje counties. How attractive these races are is best illustrated by the 836 million spectators who watched the WRC last year. The clubs holding the Croatia Rally are D.T. from Poreč and Cro Dakar Team from Zagreb, with the support of the Croatian Auto and Karting Association.
“This was literally a fight of 11 rounds, and now the most important one awaits us, the organizational and logistical one. Still, the feeling is great because the WRC is, along with Formula 1, the most prestigious octane competition in the world and only selected countries have the opportunity to host this spectacle. In addition to the sports part, we are planning many side events, such as a large economic and investment forum, because sports are first and foremost big business. I am proud and grateful to everyone involved in this complex process! We will show Croatia in the best light and mark 115 years of motoring in Croatia in the best possible way!” concluded the president of the Croatian Auto and Karting Association Davorin Štetner.
It has taken many years of struggle, lobbying and positioning Croatia as an ideal destination for the WRC.
Back in 2017, after Croatia Rally, as a successor to the INA Delta Rally, moved to Istria in 2013 as a European Rally Championship, the team around Auto Club D.T. from Porec, A.K. Cro Dakar Team from Zagreb and A.K. Delta Sport from Zagreb, with the support of the then president of the Croatian Auto and Karting Association (HAKS) Matko Bolanča, vice president of HAKS Domagoj Kamenski and secretary of HAKS Zrinko Gregurek, started working more concretely on the idea of bringing the WRC to Croatia. Thanks to Zrinko Gregurek, secretary of HAKS, the Croatian beauties, tourist infrastructure and winding, hilly and narrow Istrian and Kvarner roads, with the persistence of project managers Daniel Šaškin, Marin Frček and their team, the WRC was at their door. Then in September, the most important people of the WRC and the FIA visited Croatia to present the ideas and possibilities.
A meeting was held at the highest level, with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia, the project had the support of MINT and CNTB, and things were more than promising. In fact, Croatia was granted the WRC in 2018, but Turkey was faster, so in almost a week it obtained all the necessary permits and state guarantees and signed a contract with the WRC promoter for the end of September, which Croatian organizers had hoped for. After that, the term offered to Croatia was in July 2018, which was not acceptable given the seasonal crowds and the peak tourist season, and the organizers wanted the WRC in Croatia to be organized in April, May, early June, late September or October.
Without thinking about surrendering, the struggle for the arrival of the WRC in Croatia continued. Thus, at the 103rd session in 2018, the Government of the Republic of Croatia gave its consent to submit a candidacy for the organization of the World Rally Championship (WRC) in the Republic of Croatia in 2019 and 2020. This was the first precondition for the globally popular WRC to be held for the first time in Croatia, as the FIA and WRC Promoters condition the bringing of one WRC station only by the active participation of state institutions in the project on several levels, of course, to ensure quality performance and an organization at the level required by the whole event.
Then all the prerequisites for the day’s agreement were on the table, and the organizers wanted the WRC in Croatia to be organized in April, May, early June, late September, or October 2019 or 2020. But then the story came to a halt and there was no news about the progress of the negotiations.
However, in March 2019, Davorin Štetner, former assistant president and longtime member of the Board of the Croatian Auto and Karting Association, was elected the new president of the association. Without any multiplication of the success and effort of the entire team that worked from the beginning, the arrival of Stetner at the forefront was a game-changer and a change of direction through a new narrator. Because Davorin Štetner, entrepreneur and investor, was written in capital letters in the history of Formula 1 in 2011 as the youngest private owner of Formula 1 TV rights in the world. An achievement that enabled him to have direct contacts with the leading people of Formula 1, as well as the position of special guest of all F1 events around the world.
Also, in the same year, the Kreator Group successfully obtained media rights for the most prestigious sailing race around the world – Volvo Ocean Race ™ and the rights to broadcast the World Motorcycle Championship – MotoGP ™ and other premium sports rights.
In 2013, he launched a specialized sports channel – Kreator TV, which broadcasts in almost all cable operators in the country. In parallel with the launch of the channel, Štetner also invests in a satellite and television center in Jastrebarsko. In 2014, he signed agreements on exclusive cooperation with Eurosport and other major television companies. At the beginning of 2012, he founded the KREATOR RACING TEAM with the aim of racing in karting and foreign Formula One categories. Also, Štetner is a member of the FIA group for digital motorsport and participated in the creation of rules at the global level, and no less important, the president of the Croatian network of business angels – CRANE.
Finally, in July 2020, Jean Todt, President of the World Automobile Federation (FIA) visited Croatia, and the main topic of meetings with Croatian officials was the possibility of holding the World Rally Championship race in Croatia. Under the leadership of Jean Todt from 1993 to 2008 – Ferrari won 14 Formula 1 titles, a name that does not need to be specifically represented anywhere in the world.
All of the above led to this video address by Jean Todt on the pages of the Croatian Auto and Karting Association – HAKS.
Interestingly, Jean Todt especially referred to the successful organization and holding of the 46th INA Delta Rally in Zagreb, which took place at the end of September this year, especially in the context of restrictions and epidemiological measures related to the coronavirus epidemic.
In 2019, the WRC was watched by 836 million spectators, and 13 races attracted more than 4 million spectators, while the races achieved 1.4 billion online views. About 1,500 accredited journalists report on the competition, and almost 9,860 hours of TV programs have been produced, which are broadcast in more than 150 countries around the world.
In the last seven years, the WRC has recorded a significant trend of growing popularity. This was helped by the implementation of new television technologies with the creative use of footage from helicopters and drones.
Feasibility studies prepared in 2017 by the Faculty of Economics and Tourism from Pula, headed by prof. dr. sc. Robert Zenzerović, Cooperative for Ethical Financing from Zagreb and an abbreviated study by the Department of Economics and Sports Management of the Faculty of Kinesiology in Zagreb, headed by dr. sc. Sanela Škorić et al. sc. Mato Bartolucie from the Faculty of Economics in Zagreb, and based on data from other WRC races in the world, proves that this is a project of great benefit to the Republic of Croatia.
In the most conservative calculations, the generated consumption would amount to 22 million euros. The direct profit for the state, only through VAT, is at least four million euros, while the indirect profit of the project through media effects is 41 million euros.
It is clear that one such global attraction is a magnet for extending the tourist season and promoting and branding Croatia on a global level. We could clearly see this in the example of the Tour of Croatia race, which was unfortunately killed due to private interests. This can only be achieved with new attractive content and strong entertainment and sports events in the pre- and post-season, such as the WRC.
The arrival of the WRC in Croatia is an opportunity to promote and brand Croatia, because no matter what we think, the Croatia brand is still insufficiently recognized throughout the world. After all, the best ambassadors of Croatia so far have been its sporting successes.