European Rally Championship organizers have announced that next year’s ERC1 Junior champion will receive a funded drive into the 2022 Junior World Rally Championship as the ERC forges a stronger relationship with M-Sport.
The switch from Rally2 to Rally3 cars for ERC1 Junior was revealed in the latest World Motor Sport Council meeting on Wednesday, with the news that the champion will progress straight into Junior WRC revealed on Friday.
ERC1 Junior – won this year by Oliver Solberg – has previously rewarded the champion with a cash prize, but from 2021 the allure of a world championship campaign will be offered. The exclusive entry for only Rally3 cars also makes ERC1 Junior the first FIA-level championship to commit solely to the new category.
ERC3 Junior will remain as it has in previous years: open to entrants in Rally4 or Rally5 machines. The champion will receive paid-for ERC1 Junior drives on three rallies 2022 behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Rally3, with that number rising to six if they win ERC3 Junior in an M-Sport Fiesta Rally4.
Both ERC Junior series will be six-round affairs, starting with Canary Islands Rally – the third round of the main championship – and ending with Rally Hungary.
“This is the first action in the process of redefining the rally sporting pyramid with more announcements due at the start of 2021,” said FIA rally director Yves Matton.
“In the meantime, any initiative that creates a clear path between the FIA European Rally Championship and the FIA World Rally Championship is to be applauded and I am very pleased that we could sit down with M-Sport, Pirelli and Eurosport Events with the clear objective of achieving our shared goals.
“It’s vital for the future of our sport that young drivers are given accessible opportunities to build their international experience in four-wheel-drive machinery and this project does exactly that.”
ERC co-ordinator Jean-Baptiste Ley added: “It would be easy to rest on our laurels after a very good ERC1 Junior season when several young stars proved their talent in Rally2 machinery by scoring overall podiums and victories. But we made two important observations.
“The first is that those drivers have demonstrated they have what it takes to challenge for the overall title and that’s what we hope they will continue to do next season. At the same time, it’s clear the step between ERC3 Junior for two-wheel-drive and ERC1 Junior for four-wheel-drive, is not getting any smaller, while the finances required are proving increasingly harder to obtain due to the global pandemic.
“The all-new Rally3 category from the FIA is therefore the perfect answer to the needs of ERC Junior with a smart balance between cost and four-wheel-drive experience.”
M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson concluded: “Developing young drivers has always been at the heart of our business, and the FIA European Rally Championship has long been a proving ground for some of the world’s best up-and-coming talent.
“We’re dedicated to providing a clear and cost-effective route whereby the most promising youngsters can reach the very top of our sport, and this new series adds another string to that bow.
“I look forward to seeing what talent comes to the fore in 2021, and to monitoring their progress as they work towards the ultimate goal of becoming a future world champion.”