Destination Italy for FIA Rally Star American and Women’s Finals
Taking place at the Maggiora Offroad Arena in northern Italy, the FIA Rally Star American Final is up first from May 1-3 followed by the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final on May 4.
The FIA Rally Star American Final is the last of five Continental Finals scheduled and follows on from the European, Middle East and North African, African and Asia-Pacific shootout events held previously. The winners of these four finals, the American Final winner, plus the Women’s Final winner, will enter the FIA Rally Star Training Season, which includes extensive training, preparation and assessment, plus six national- or regional-level rallies from June onwards.
Forty-three drivers from eight countries (Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and USA) will contest the FIA Rally Star American Final, while five drivers are set to take part in the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final.
The FIA Rally Star American Final contestants have progressed through Digital Challenges or Slalom Challenges organised by National Sporting Authorities (ASNs) or online through #RallyAtHome Challenges managed by the FIA Rally Star administration.
Meanwhile, the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final line-up is formed of the best performing female drives in the European, Middle East and North African, African and Asia-Pacific Continental Finals. A fifth contestant will be chosen from the FIA Rally Star American Final, of which there are eight female drivers in action.
While the experience of the contestants differs with some only having had the opportunity to compete online, they will all approach the event at the Maggiora Offroad Arena with the shared goal of trying to be the recipient of a place in the upcoming FIA Rally Star Training Season when they will savour a truly life-changing experience. And with the four drivers who impress the most during the FIA Rally Star Training Season stepping up to the FIA Junior WRC Championship for 2024 as their prize, FIA Rally Star provides an incredible chance for young talents around the world to live their dreams at little or no personal expense.
Through a partnership with the Automobile Club d’Italia, Italy is hosting the FIA Rally Star American and Women’s Final after logistical issues meant Uruguay could no longer stage the event. Uruguay was the intended replacement for Peru, where a period of social unrest earlier this year meant it was no longer possible to arrange the two Finals in that country.
IN GOOD COMPANY
The FIA Rally Star American Final and the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final winners will join the four drivers who have qualified to date for the FIA Rally Star Training Season. They are South African Max Smart, winner of the African Final, Australia’s Taylor Gill, who came through from the Asia-Pacific Final, Romet Jürgenson, the European Final winner from Estonia, and Abdullah Al Tawqi, who won the Middle East and North Africa Final representing Oman.
Maja Hallén Fellenius (Sweden) and Katie Milner (United Kingdom) were the first to qualify for the Women’s Final following their performances in the European Final. Farah Zakaria from Jordan qualified from the FIA Rally Star Middle East and North African Final. Kristie Ellis from South Africa was the best performing female in the African Final, while India’s Pragathi Gowda was selected from the Asia-Pacific Final. However, Milner has since decided to withdraw from the FIA Rally Star process.
WHAT’S UP FOR GRABS AT MAGGIORA OFFROAD ARENA?
The winner of the FIA Rally Star American Final will have the honour of representing the region in the 2023 FIA Rally Star Training Season, which begins with an intensive Training Camp being organised in Sardinia from May 21-June 1, and which includes the reconnaissance for Rally Italia Sardegna, round six of the FIA World Rally Championship, at the same time as the WRC drives. The FIA Rally Star Training Season begins in earnest from June onwards with the first of six rallies in identical Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta Rally3s run by M-Sport Poland. Four events take place on gravel with two on Tarmac. The FIA Rally Star Women’s Final winner will receive the exact same opportunity.
THEN WHAT HAPPENS?
At the end of 2023, the best four FIA Rally Star Team members are rewarded with a season in the FIA Junior WRC Championship in 2024. For 2025, three drivers go forward into a second Junior WRC season. And if one of the FIA Rally Star Team members wins the title, they secure a WRC2 campaign in a Rally2 car for 2026 with a Rally1 drive their next target.
Apart from any initial registration fee to take part in a national selection event, plus travel costs to and from national selections and the Continental Final, all other costs are covered by the FIA with support from the FIA Rally Star partners. The partners are M-Sport, Pirelli, the FIA World Rally Championship, Nacon, Thrustmaster, Playseat, MP and LifeLive.
Participation in the Training Season in 2023, plus two years in the Junior WRC, essentially means three seasons of rallying free of charge for three drivers. Furthermore, all FIA Rally Star Team members will benefit considerably in terms of the experience and skills gained in 2023, plus the opportunity to showcase their ability to media outlets and potential sponsors and partners, rally teams and car manufacturers.
FIA RALLY STAR AMERICAN FINAL: HOW IT WORKS
Stage 1 (Monday May 1): Divided into five groups and sharing two TN5 Cross Cars built and prepared by Thierry Neuville’s LifeLive organisation, the finalists will complete one reconnaissance run and two timed runs of a gravel stage measuring approximately 800 kilometres in length. The running order will be reversed after the first pass of the stage with the best time of each candidate used to establish the classification of each group. The fastest three in each group will automatically qualify for Stage 2 with four additional drivers qualifying relative to the average of the two fastest drivers in their group.
Stage 2 (Tuesday May 2): A stage measuring approximately 1500 metres in length will challenge the participants on day two. Once again, the drivers will be split into five groups and will share two TN5 Cross Cars. Following a single reconnaissance run, competitors will take part in two timed runs with the starting order reversed following the first run. The fastest two drivers in each group will qualify for Stage 3. Those eliminated can register to contest the Digital Challenge, which provides an alternative route to the Final for 1-2 drivers. Drivers eliminated in Stage 1 will not be eligible for the Digital Challenge. In the event that a female does not qualify for Stage 3, the Jury may use the results and performances from Stage 2 to select the Women’s Final participant or request that a shootout takes place during Stage 3.
Stage 3 (Wednesday May 3): The qualifiers from Stage 2 and the Digital Challenge will tackle Stage 3, which will be approximately 2700 metres long. The number of reconnaissance and timed runs will be determined by the Jury onsite. The results of a running session and a reflex test, plus a formal interview, will also be used by the jury to determine the winner. The decision of the Jury is final and cannot be appealed.
FIA RALLY STAR WOMEN’S FINAL EXPLAINED
To ensure fairness, the FIA Women’s Final participants selected from the African, Asia-Pacific, European and Middle East and North African Finals will get the opportunity to take part in a Free Practice session on Wednesday May 3. The competition element begins on Thursday May 4 when the driver selected during the FIA Rally Star American Final joins the existing quartet. As well as tackling a gravel stage 2700 metres in length, the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final participants will take part in a running session, reflex test, and a formal interview with the Jury. All results and performances will be considered by the Jury in determining the winner. The decision of the Jury is final and cannot be appealed.
EXPERT JURY TO DECIDER THE FIA RALLY STAR WINNERS
The winner of the FIA Rally Star American Final and the driver progressing to the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final on May 4 will be announced at approximately 17h00 local time on Wednesday May 3 after all drivers have been interviewed by the Jury (see below). The winner of the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final will be announced during the afternoon of Thursday May 4. The FIA Rally Star American and Women’s Finals are closed to spectators.
THE FIA RALLY STAR AMERICAN AND WOMEN’S FINAL JURY
A five-person Jury will preside over the FIA Rally Star American and Women’s Finals. The Jury is as follows:
Robert Reid (Chairman): The FIA Deputy President for Sport who won the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship for Co-Drivers. He partnered Richard Burns to 10 WRC victories.
Nil Solans (Member): Junior WRC champion in 2017, Solans is a two-time ERC event winner and an FIA Rally Star Driver Advisor.
Pernilla Solberg (Member): An ex-class-winning rally driver, Solberg is the wife of 2003 FIA WRC champion Petter Solberg and mother of WRC driver Oliver Solberg.
Maciej Woda (Member): Woda heads up M-Sport Poland, the company behind the Ford Fiesta Rally3 and Rally4 cars. He also oversees the successful running of the FIA Junior WRC.
Matteo Romano (Member): WRC Rally1 Manager at Pirelli
WHO’S TAKING PART?
A total of 43 drivers are set to compete in the FIA Rally Star American Final with Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and USA all represented. The FIA Rally Star Women’s Final participants represent India, Jordan, South Africa and Sweden, with a fifth driver to be decided following the completion of the FIA Rally Star American Final.
WHAT THEY SAID
Jérôme Roussel, FIA Rally Star Project Leader: “We are delighted to welcome drivers from the Americas to Italy for the FIA Rally Star American Final and, of course, those drivers who performed so well to reach the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final. In a few days, the FIA Rally Star Training Season line-up will be completed, which will represent a significant milestone in our efforts to discover future winners of the FIA World Rally Championship. That’s when the hard work gets even harder with an intensive Training Camp followed by the first of six rallies from June onwards for those fortunate enough to have made it through to the Training Season. For all the other drivers, just getting to their respective Finals is a major achievement and something they should all be very proud of. We also hope the experience gained will serve them well in the future. As well as thanking all our partners and supporters, I would like to thank the team at the Maggiora Offroad Arena, my fellow Organising Committee members Riccardo Fasola and Bryan To, all the volunteer officials and, of course, the Automobile Club d’Italia for their incredible commitment and guidance.”
FIA RALLY STAR AMERICAN FINAL CONTESTANTS
In the spotlight: Andrea Barboza, 24, Paraguay
What made you decide to enter the FIA Rally Star selection process in your country?
“To be part of an FIA competition and even FIA Rally Star that is giving a lot of opportunity to women in this sport that is most of the time for men, at least in Paraguay, where there are just a few girls in motor sport.”
How did you qualify for the final in Sardinia?
“I am a law student but when I heard about the competition I immediately got my entry in and I was very happy that my country gave this experience and opportunity. I qualified through the Slalom challenge that took place in January of this year.”
What does is it mean to you to represent your country in FIA Rally Star?
“It means a lot to me and I’m so excited and ready for the adventure of a lifetime. This experience is something new in my country and I couldn’t be more thankful that the FIA Rally Star team has given girls this amazing opportunity. Touring y Automóvil Club Paraguayo gave us some lessons and training. My objective for the final is to give my 100 per cent, learn everything I can and also have an amazing time, meet new people and achieve my dream.”
In the spotlight: Tamara Seijas, 22, Uruguay
What are your aims and objectives for the FIA Rally Star American Final?
“I want to give my best and enjoy this unique opportunity. I want to continue competing and be the next one to win a place in the FIA Rally Star Training Season. It would be amazing to be able to participate in the World Rally Championship one day.”
Aside from your FIA Rally Star commitments what else do you do?
“I currently work driving a van to distribute products in many important stores so I spend every morning driving. I am also in my last year studying a degree in physiotherapy. The reason why I entered the FIA Rally Star selection process is because of my passion since I was a child, which is driving.”
How important is it to represent your country in such an important competition?
“Representing my country on this occasion is something inexplicable, it is a set of positive emotions and I am so proud to represent Uruguay. I qualified for the American Final through the Slalom and Digital Challenges last year and I have been preparing for the Final based on physical and mental training and practicing with digital motorsport.”
In the spotlight: Storme Wroblewski, 21, Canada
What convinced you that FIA Rally Star was for you?
“For the opportunity to make the leap from sim to real life racing. I qualified for the American Final through WRC 9’s #RallyAtHome Challenge. My main goal for the future is to become the first Canadian World Rally Championship winner. I would, however, love to help the next generation and beyond attain their goals sometime in the future.”
How have you prepared for this amazing opportunity?
“I have prepared by attending as many track days as possible as well as physical training. One of the days was at the Kitchener-Waterloo Rally Club where I drove a 305bhp rear-wheel-drive Ford Mustang. It means a lot to me to be able to represent Canada on the world stage. Canada is very underrepresented in motor sports, but especially in rallying.”
What would represent mission accomplished for you in Maggiora?
“My main objective is to win and perform well enough during the Training Season to earn a spot during in the 2024 Junior WRC. But another goal of mine is just seat time in real life as right now that’s very limited. Ideally attending the Final will also help in attaining sponsorships and pursuing other motor sports opportunities.”
FIA RALLY STAR WOMEN’S FINAL CONTESTANTS
In the spotlight: Kristie Ellis, 21, South Africa
How are you feeling ahead of the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final?
“Very excited. This whole journey has been incredible and to be here at the Final, with such talented ladies, is mind blowing. I am trying to stay calm to get the best results I possibly can, but then I realise the crazy opportunity that has fallen in my lap.”
Can you explain how you have prepared for the Final?
“Johan Viljoen, who races at regional level in the Eastern Cape, allowed me to use his old Golf MK1 rally car, with standard suspension, to practice on his farm. Tom Hugo at Algoa Grand Prix Indoor Go Karting let me practice with him as well as take part in the league they run every other week with four stroke indoor karts. The weekend leading up to the Final I will be heading to Cape Town to have one training session with Ashley Haigh-Smith in a Cross Cart, sponsored by a few amazing people that are part of the rally family here. I have also had the opportunity to spend time on a simulator with racing drivers in the Eastern Cape, Ian Riddle and Barry Van Rensburg. My training might not be extensive but compared to the knowledge I had entering this composition I have learnt a lot in the interim.”
What would winning mean to you?
“Winning this competition would firstly be an honour and secondly it would be a dream come true. Racing has always been a passion for me but without the needed resources was never a viable reality. So, this opportunity is already life changing.”
Do you look at the WRC as being a future target?
“Being part of the WRC is definitely a goal I have set for myself. The Dakar has also been something that I’ve dreamt about taking part in, but I never thought I would want to do it in a car. I used to dream of doing it on a motorbike, but things have changed since. They say there’s nothing as addictive as rallying and I can testify to that.”
Aside from the FIA Rally Star programme, what else keeps you busy?
“I am studying Architectural Technology at Nelson Mandela University in Gqeberha, which is a full-time job on its own. I have also gone into business with my sister as we have started a car wash together. I’ve got my plate full but I’ve always thrived under pressure and believe that staying busy and working towards your future is the only way.”
In the spotlight: Maja Hallén Fellenius, 20, Sweden
Why in your view do you think you can win the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final?
“My superpower has always been how fast I can learn new cars and tracks, so even if there are girls that initially are faster, and with more experience, I think I will be challenging them pretty quickly. I hope the judges see my ability to turn theory into practice fast.”
How are you preparing for the Final?
“The Swedish Automobile Sports Federation have been just outstanding in taking me in and helping me. They have given me access to all the national team’s resources, so I’ve been using their training programmes and simulator. I also got to practice a bit in a Cross Car, but since the winter just ended in Sweden the tracks aren’t ready to drive on just yet so that was last year. Hopefully I learnt enough – and that it stuck.”
If you win the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final, what would it mean to you?
“It would be the ultimate dream come true. Since I first sat in a rental kart aged 10, I’ve wanted to spend my life within motor sports. The feeling of controlling something that at first seems uncontrollable, right on the edge of how fast you physically can go, is crazy addictive. But it would not only be about the driving and competing – motor sports is also a fantastically friendly and helpful and knowing I had the chance of staying in that family for maybe years to come makes me happy to the bone.”
What is your goal for the future?
“After winning the first FIA Girls on Track competition I got to meet Michèle Mouton a couple of times, and she really made a deep impression on me – both as a woman and as a sportsperson. She reminded me that we’re actually in one of extremely few sports where men and women compete with each other on the exact same conditions. And regardless of your gender, all you need is some discipline, talent, and a burning passion to go faster. She proved that by winning four WRC rallies and I’d like to make her proud by being the next girl to do so.”
In terms of your opponents what do you think of them and their level?
“I have great respect for the girls I will compete against. I don’t know much more about them, more than what I’ve seen in social media, but I think almost all of them are a little older than I am and a couple also have more experience from driving big cars. Regardless of who wins I hope that us girls by just being there together can make some little girl somewhere think that girls totally belong in rallying.”
INTRODUCING THE TN5 CROSS CAR
The TN5 Cross Car from Thierry Neuville’s LifeLive organisation is used by all drivers tackling the timed stages. The Cross Car (XC) category is off-road motorsport’s equivalent to karting. XCs are accessible and affordable single-seaters using a tubular spaceframe chassis powered by a motorcycle engine and provide young drivers with the opportunity to build their skills on gravel before they are old enough to hold a driving licence.
The FIA Rally Star Training Season begins with the FIA Rally Star Training Camp in Sardinia from May 21-June 1. Rally San Marino is the first of six rallies the FIA Rally Star Training Season participants will contest from June 16-17.