Getting to the top
We all know that the stars of the World Rally Championship are some of the most impressive drivers in all of motorsport, driving as fast as they can along roads they hardly know while just centimetres away from the scenery. But how did they get that way in the first place?
One of the best places to look for up-and-coming rally talent is actually on some of the same events. The Junior World Rally Championship (JWRC) takes place across five rounds of the WRC: this year it starts in Sweden (complete with temperatures that can dip to around minus 30 degrees centigrade) and takes in Corsica, Portugal, Finland and Turkey.
All the drivers, who must have been born in 1989 or later, compete in identical R2-specification Ford Fiestas prepared by the factory M-Sport operation. A sense of fear is optional. This year, the drivers will all be on Pirelli tyres too: a key element of the Italian company’s recent return to the WRC.
Pirelli has a long tradition of success in rallying, and it also has a proud history of promoting young talent. It was previously involved in the JWRC when it was known as the WRC Academy, the two champions of which were Craig Breen and Elfyn Evans, who have both now established themselves at the top level of the sport.
Breen was a graduate of the Pirelli Star Driver scheme, which also gave Ott Tanak and Hayden Paddon their first breaks in the WRC. Sebastien Ogier used Pirelli tyres when he won the JWRC title in 2008. Who’s going to lift the title 10 years on?
Introducing this year’s challengers
The JWRC class of 2018 includes a number of exciting prospects. As well as returning frontrunners from last year, there’s a junior champion and rally winner from the European championship. Look out also for a national champion from New Zealand and the reigning junior champions of Estonia, Britain and France.
They’re all competing for a valuable prize that constitutes a fast-track to the top: a brand-new Fiesta R5 together with a tyre, fuel and free rally entries package towards the 2019 WRC2 season.
A strong result in Sweden is sure to help, but the event is one of the most challenging of the entire year, where a bit of local knowledge and experience. A key part of the driver’s art on Rally Sweden is knowing how to use the snowbanks: drivers lean against them in order to negotiate the corners quicker. Get it wrong, and the cars become like balls in a pinball machine.
To generate maximum grip, Pirelli has developed a specific studded tyre for Sweden: the Sottozero Ice. Each of these tyres contain 384 metal studs that bite through the snow and ice into the firmer ground underneath.