Romet Jürgenson has won the European final of the brand-new FIA Rally Star talent search program beating 88 rivals to a prize-drive season with M-Sport in 2023.
A three-day shootout event, where drivers took on timed stages around the Estering rallycross circuit driving a LifeLive TN5 Evo CrossCar, whittled those 89 entrants down to 12 by Sunday.
Stormy weather had forced Saturday’s stage two groups to be postponed but there were no rough seas for Jürgenson, who’d started strongly in the first stage of the competition by winning his group and going fourth-fastest of the 89 drivers.
The 22-year-old had secured a berth in the European final as the 11th winner of the Rally At Home esports challenge, setting fastest time on the WRC9 video game last September.
Grading criteria for the European final was not judged purely on pace. Instead, an expert panel that included 2001 World Rally Champion co-driver Robert Reid, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and M-Sport’s Malcolm Wilson evaluated all 12 drivers “on all track performance, evolution, [and] interviews.”
After a final round of interviews on Sunday afternoon, it was Jürgenson that was chosen as the European winner – with five more winners to be decided in regional finals on other continents later this year.
There then is a chance to be one of four picked to compete in the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, and the contest’s ultimate prize is a season in WRC2
“I remember seeing [FIA rally director] Yves Matton’s tweet about Rally Star,” said Jürgenson last year after his winning qualification run.
“I commented on it saying how amazing it would be. Immediately, I knew this was my chance and I took it. I was quite surprised how competitive I was so early [in the competition] and what’s also good is that I didn’t make this achievement with all the latest equipment. I made the final with an older wheel and sometimes the paddle shifts weren’t working all of the time!”
Jürgenson has never competed beyond entry-level rallying in his native Estonia. His biggest accolade to date is winning the Estonian Folkrally Cup’s Under 18 division in 2017 at the wheel of a BMW 318ti.
In recent seasons he had switched to the role of co-driver, reading the notes for Folkrally Under 16s competitor Jaspar Vaher on multiple occasions and also navigating for the course car on Rally Lõuna-Eesti.
Patrik Hallberg, who missed out on last year’s RallyX Nordic CrossCar title by the narrowest of margins, was selected as a reserve driver for the Rally Star program.
His prize for winning the European final of Rally Star has given Jürgenson the opportunity to leap rapidly up the rally hierarchy, putting him at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Rally3 at six yet-to-be-announced rallies next year.
McLaren development driver Katie Milner has earned a qualification place for the women’s final later which will take place later this year, coming out as a joint winner against the 13 other women competing at the Estering shootout.
Milner’s career to date has been focused on circuit racing – she competed in British GT for Team Rocket RJN last year – but she also has a family background in rallying: her father is two-time British Rally Champion Jonny Milner.
Maja Hallén Fellenius from Sweden also gained a place in the womens’ final, as she was declared a joint winner alongside Milner. Both had to defeat two other women, Aistè Perminaitè and Sabrina Obenlüneschloss, in a final-four shootout to secure their places.