Thierry Neuville will play an active role in finding his own replacement – along with helping to source the next Sébastien Ogier and an all-new Elfyn Evans or Ott Tänak.
The Belgian star’s LifeLive firm has been selected to supply CrossCars to the FIA’s Rally Star program this year.
After graduating from either a digital or slalom-based selection process, ASNs around the world will send their top 15 drivers (eight from digital, six from slalom, one wildcard) to a continental final, where they get their hands on one of the LifeLive CrossCars in an attempt to impress the judges and progress to the next level.
“When the FIA launched Rally Star, they made an appeal through the tender for three cars,” Neuville told DirtFish.
“Our team has worked on the offer at the beginning of last year and we won the tender and signed the contract a couple of months ago. It’s a big job for the company, but they are getting bigger and bigger and looking for more and more work.
“I’m happy for the company, it’s good visibility, but it’s also a challenging project.”
Having worked on the development of the CrossCar, Neuville knows it’s precisely what the FIA is looking for in the second tier of its all-new talent search program.
“The CrossCar is a great tool to make the detection and to research the new talent. They’re going to come from the simulator or slalom and then to CrossCar and then to the rally car where they have the chance to take the prize.”
LifeLive’s buggies have been modified ahead of their deployment in the global talent search.
“We have made some evolutions to the car,” said Neuville. “Normally we are using 10-inch wheels on the car, but now they will be fitted with 13-inch wheels so they can also take the Pirelli gravel tires.
“Those cars have been reinforced to make sure they can take the heavier tires, there have been a lot of modifications in this area, but also some extra cooling systems because they will also be running in really hot countries.
“It’s great for the company and great for the guys in the workshop who have been pushing really hard for the last two years. LifeLive will have a great visibility, but it also shows more about CrossCar as a discipline, the category is growing a lot, a lot, a lot and thanks to the FIA more and more people are getting involved.”
Neuville praised the FIA’s work with the ground-breaking Rally Star scheme, which has already seen a huge global take-up since it was formally launched on January 1.
“I’m not the only one to come from this kind of [program],” Neuville added.
“Take Sébastien Ogier, Sébastien Loeb, myself and a couple of other drivers – we are all out of talent search programs. Also look to the Pirelli Star Driver, Ott Tänak and Hayden Paddon were involved in those. It shows how important it is for young drivers to take part in such shootout competitions and this is a great opportunity for them. There are a lot of young people all around the world who will be participating and this is really exciting for them.”
FIA Rally Star project leader Jérôme Roussel welcomed last year’s Monte Carlo Rally winner to the Rally Star fold.
“It’s really good to have LifeLive and Thierry involved with us,” said Roussel.
“It’s easy to see that he’s impassioned about the CrossCar and how it can work with Rally Star. He’s really a hands-on guy when it’s coming to this sort of thing – like we saw, when we had a day of testing with the car in November, he was working on it himself. It’s really nice to see him getting involved like this.”
Roussel has been impressed with the response to Rally Star in the first four days since its launch.
“It’s been fantastic. We open on January 1 and we have some time for the ASNs to organize things. The first continental final is in Europe in the middle of June and the ASNs have until 10 days before the final to submit their drivers. The response both from the local governing bodies and from drivers has been at a really high level – I’m getting people contacting me telling me they are the next driver for the FIA. But they have to go through their ASN.
“I can tell you of two examples for the ASNs which have done a lot so far. Finland, like you would expect, will be the first to finalize their drivers – they do this at the end of the month after an all-digital selection. But the other example is Georgia. Do you know, Georgia doesn’t have an FIA-affiliated event, but these guys have been very, very motivated for this. They make three slalom competitions and it’s fantastic to see the response from them. Also from China, it’s a huge response already.”
The Rally Star scheme is open to drivers aged between 17 and 26. The first round, which is organized by local ASNs, will be via either a digital platform, using the World Rally Championship’s WRC 9 game or via motorkhana, a slalom competition using unmodified road cars.