It all comes down to this. Six drivers, just four places up for grabs, and one final opportunity left to earn it.
The FIA Rally Star ‘training season’ has almost reached its crescendo. And with a spot in next year’s Junior World Rally Championship on the line for the four highest performers, there’s no time for a missed note.
We’ll end the musical metaphor there and cut right to the case: this weekend’s Lausitz Rallye is hugely important for all six Rally Star finalists.
“Of course after five events, plus the training, you always have a small idea [about who could earn the Junior WRC drives],” FIA Rally Star project leader, Jérôme Roussel, told DirtFish.
“But I am not the one making the decision. The decision is made by a committee made of people from [rally] commission and some FIA executives. Just after the event, we will gather them in Geneva for one day of debrief and also meeting the FIA staff, and that will be the last time all six drivers are together.
“The decision will be made quickly before the end of November, because Junior WRC is starting very soon after.”
The ones who are chosen won’t necessarily be the fastest, but also those who have shown the most improvement over the course of the past few months.
As Roussel puts it: “They all came with different stories, different experience, different culture, so that’s why we decided to do this season to train them without telling them the four fastest would go to Junior [WRC].
“It was all about the capacity to improve, to learn, to progress.”
So who are the six drivers, and what form are they each in?
On pace alone, the 23-year-old Estonian has been the standout driver of the FIA Rally Star ‘training season’.
Top Rally Star crew on three of the five events so far reflects well on Jürgenson, who has also been doing some rallying in a Rally4 Fiesta this year. But he’s not been immune to trouble, with an accident on Rally San Marino.
Roussel’s view: “We can see that the most experienced guys have been the fastest, and Romet has done very well across the season. It was not a season without mistakes but from where he started and where he is now we can see a clear improvement.
“When we look at the gap we have the Rally2 and the Rally4 cars, it gives us a good indication of where we are with our drivers.”
The only driver other than Jürgenson to be quickest on an event is 20-year-old Taylor Gill, who was fastest in San Marino and Estonia.
He’s the only driver of the six to finish every single event which is impressive, but he wants to show his speed at this weekend’s German finale.
Roussel’s view: “Taylor also came with a bit of experience, but he had to learn the rallies from the European perspective because the guy is coming from Australia where many things are different including the roads.
“So he had to learn about Tarmac, he had to learn about gravel with a lot of ruts being created from one run to another.
“He had some mechanical issues on one event, on another event he had a small off, but still he has been able to finish all the rallies and that’s also something which is important.
“You don’t win the championship on the weekends where everything is all right; you win it when it’s not so good and you are able to catch some points, finish the rally at a good position. That’s something he is really capable of at the moment.”
Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó
He may be 26, but Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó’s first rally wasn’t until the first FIA Rally Star ‘training season’ event in June of this year.
Considering this, he has been extremely impressive. The only real blot on his copybook was an off on the recent Rally RACC in Spain.
Abito is maybe the biggest surprise for us in terms of improvement on performanceJérôme Roussel
Roussel’s view: “Abito is maybe the biggest surprise for us. The guy was selected just two weeks before the training camp in Sardinia, so he had to go back quickly to Peru, find a co-driver, come back with this co-driver and start to learn. For them it was a crazy journey.
“Abito only had experience in karting. The way he was able to improve, the performance level he showed especially on Tarmac, also on gravel – before crashing in Spain he was really at a decent level considering his experience.
“For us, he is maybe the biggest surprise in terms of improvement on performance, especially with this very short notice.”
Another not to take part in a rally until his FIA Rally Star campaign got under way, Max Smart endured a tough start with a crash in testing and then again on his first event.
Ejected from the process and missing Rallye Weiz in Austria to build up his knowledge bank, Smart showed how far he has come with a fine run to second Rally Star crew on the most recent event.
Roussel’s view: “Max, as you know, had more difficult times with two big accidents without being able to build a lot of experience. He had to restart with a specific program on the side of what we are doing for him.
“Maybe what he did during the summer is what he should have done since he was selected almost one year before the start of the season, just learning the basics.
“But it paid because the pace he showed in Catalunya was really decent considering his experience, so also a good progression. We need to see progression so he’s the perfect example of progression and development.”
The 24-year-old Omani driver has flown under the radar throughout the FIA Rally Star process, as he too accustoms himself to becoming a rally driver.
Al-Tawqi’s highlight so far was third Rally Star driver home on Rally RACC, just 26.3 seconds shy of Smart.
Roussel’s view: “Abdullah, for him it has been sometimes a bit difficult. Abdullah is the one who is struggling the most with the language barrier. He is improving on this but sometimes you feel that it takes him a bit more time to understand the way the car works, the discussion with the engineer also, it’s something that we should not forget.
“He is able to show really good pace but at the moment the difficulty for him is to be consistent. But what we like very much with him is his capacity to learn, listen and implement. He is always staying focused on his work.”
Two accidents from her first two starts weren’t ideal for Annia Cillóniz, but she has demonstrated steady progression since then.
Yet another to have next-to-no rally experience prior to this process, she is beginning to bring consistency to her game and is chipping away at her pace deficit to some of the faster drivers of the bunch.
Roussel’s view: “Annia had the start of the season a bit similar to Max – many mistakes that hurt her confidence. But she was able to go over this, start to finish some rallies which was the main target. For sure, she was struggling on Tarmac, has done a bit better on gravel.
“We can see that her level of performance is improving but you don’t need to look too much at the times to realize she is the one who maybe has the biggest difficulties at the moment.”