Rally drivers are often said to be the most naturally skilful in all of motorsport, given the diverse range of surfaces and conditions they face, the finite margins for error and the fact that they don’t get to practice the same sections of road over and over again – unlike their circuit racing counterparts.
But where do rally drivers come from? Many, especially those from the north of Europe, start learning to drive from a very early age on a gravel track or a frozen lake. Some started out in go-karting, just like the Formula 1 champions of the future. Others might come to it later, once they’ve earned their licence to drive on the road.
Now, there’s a new way to make it, thanks to FIA Rally Star: a programme set up by motorsport’s world governing body to unearth driving talent from around the globe. All you need is talent and a desire to prove it.
Working in association with motorsport authorities in each participating nation, FIA Rally Star is looking for talent aged between 17 and 25 from the untapped world of digital motorsport – using the latest version of the official World Rally Championship video game. But you don’t necessarily have to be a whizz in front of a screen, since it’s also possible to demonstrate your skills behind the wheel of a real-life production car by participating in slalom tests.
Those selected from each individual country will go forward into one of six continental finals. This is where the competition gets really exciting with the finalists having the chance to drive LifeLive TN5 Cross Cars. TN5 being the initials and race number of leading WRC contender Thierry Neuville, who has helped to develop these lightweight buggies together with his brother Yannick. Basically, they’re like spaceframe rally cars: the feeling when driving them is very similar.
One driver will then be chosen from each continent to join the FIA Rally Star team and spend 2022 undergoing a comprehensive training programme, which will include six rallies in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally3 car. Four drivers will then be chosen to compete in the Junior WRC in 2023, from which they have the opportunity to progress all the way to the top of the rallying pyramid. Not bad, after starting from a computer game.
Pirelli, which in 2021 is returning to the top level of the WRC as exclusive tyre supplier, is one of the key supporters of the FIA Rally Star programme. It continues the Italian company’s proud history of helping the promotion of talented young drivers across motorsport – and especially in rallying.
During its previous spell as sole supplier to the WRC between 2009 and 2011, it established the Pirelli Star Driver scheme which selected promising young drivers competing at a national level and gave them a chance on the world stage. It helped to launch the careers of several future top-line competitors, including the 2019 world champion Ott Tänak. Since 2018, Pirelli has supplied the Junior WRC, which will form a key part of the new programme.
With Pirelli’s support, FIA Rally Star will cast the net wider by looking for talent outside of the rally stages though the WRC 9 and slalom selections. In doing so, it will break down one of the most significant barriers to entry in motorsport: the cost.
Seven-time world champion Sébastien Ogier once paid a 20-euro registration fee to launch his career through a scheme run by the French federation called Rallye Jeunes. Just three years later, he was winning the Junior WRC title and on his way to world domination. With FIA Rally Star, a similar opportunity is now on offer for aspiring drivers from across the whole world.
Shane Richmond is a technology writer and...