Having seen the F1 world championship slip through his fingers over the final few rounds of the 2010 campaign, Mark Webber has turned his attention - momentarily at least - to matters away from the race track.
The Australian mounted his most concerted assault on the world title with Red Bull this season, but had the added disappointment of seeing team-mate Sebastian Vettel come from third in the standings to claim the crown in Abu Dhabi, while he slipped back to third overall, behind Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. Webber's rise to the role of contender began in 2009, where he briefly challenged Jenson Button for the title, a feat more remarkable for the fact that he was still recovering from injuries sustained while competing on his eponymous adventure race in Tasmania.
The setback, caused by a collision with a 4x4 while competing on a cycle leg of the event in late 2008, prompted Webber to suspend his sideline for a year, allowing him to focus purely on his F1 commitments in 2010 - a move that nearly paid off as he took four wins on the season and led the championship until two rounds from home. Now, however, he has decided to revive the Tasmanian event from 2011.
Minister for tourism Michelle O'Byrne confirmed the decision, saying that a new partnership between the Tasmanian state government, Mark Webber Challenge Management Pty Ltd and its event management company Octagon Australia would ensure the event ran for the next three years.
“This is fantastic news for Tasmania and we welcome Mark Webber back as one of our state's greatest ambassadors,” she said, “The last event, held in 2008, resulted in global media exposure for Tasmania worth more than $7m and the marketing power of one of the most recognisable Australians in the world has only grown since then.”
O'Byrne also revealed that the first event, set for 5-8 December 2011, would shine a spotlight on some of the state's most iconic adventure tourism locations, including Cradle Mountain, Freycinet and the Bay of Fires.
“The adventure race will feature the traditional mountain biking, trail running and kayaking and may be expanded to include sports such as swimming, white water rafting, caving or ropes courses,” she said, “The course will be designed to not only test the elite athlete, but to provide an opportunity for the less 'hard core' adventure sports enthusiasts to compete and challenge themselves.”
In the new partnership, the state government will invest $400,000 a year for three years, securing an event which is expected to deliver more than $21m in media coverage and position Tasmania as a world-class adventure travel destination.
“The Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge is a great event that will help deliver on the State Government's tourism strategy and promote our adventure tourism potential to the world,” O'Byrne concluded, “The event itself, coupled with Mark's personal endorsement, will also enhance our status globally as the clean, green nature-based state of Australia. And, as in previous years, we expect the event to attract a number of celebrities, elite athletes and high profile visitors, whether as competitors or sponsors.”
The Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge was previously held in the state in 2006, 2007 and 2008. During that period, over $1 million was raised for the Australian star's nominated charities, the Leukaemia Foundation and the Save the Devil Campaign.
Weber has yet to confirm whether he would be competing on the Challenge when it returns.....