The stars of tomorrow have been unveiled as the runners and riders in the 2023 Junior World Rally Championship have been officially confirmed.
And for the second year of Ford Fiesta Rally3 competition, there’s plenty of change as all four of the 2022 title contenders are onto pastures new.
New champion Robert Virves will drive a Fiesta Rally2 in WRC2 as per his prize, where he’ll battle 2021 champion Sami Pajari who’ll pilot a Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2.
Lauri Joona will also drive a Škoda but in the Finnish national championship, while Jon Armstrong is still without a confirmed program.
So who’s left, and who’s joining? Here’s a quick look at this year’s contenders:
Arguably the favorite for the title despite never winning a Junior WRC round before given he’s the only pilot to have past JWRC experience, William Creighton heads into his third season as a sure-fire contender.
Year one was all about learning but in year two last season Creighton showed some real flashes of speed with two podiums to book-end the season in Sweden and Greece.
He should be match fit too as his season actually begins next week with a WRC2 debut in a Hyundai i20 N Rally2 on the Monte, forming a two-car team with fellow Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver Josh McErlean.
But Creighton isn’t the only MI Academy driver to ply his trade in Junior WRC either.
That’s because recently-turned 24-year-old Eamonn Kelly will make his first steps into the WRC this year, hot off the back of a huge year in 2022.
Kelly dominated the Junior British Rally Championship last term and impressed on select R5 outings too, earning himself Ireland’s coveted Billy Coleman Award.
JWRC will be a big step up for him though given he’s never competed outside of the UK and Ireland before, but he is putting that right by contesting Arctic Rally Finland this weekend as a warm-up for Sweden.
Kelly sees this as a two-year project, but the battle between him and Creighton will be interesting to monitor as they both look to prove they’re Ireland’s best future prospect worth backing.
A real dark horse for 2023 title glory.
Diego Dominguez may not have entered JWRC before, but he’s appeared in the WRC already with a Fiesta Rally3 – beating Creighton to WRC3 victory on the Acropolis last year and claiming another podium in Spain.
Despite being just 22 years old, Dominguez brings with him considerable four-wheel-drive experience from back home in Paraguay too, so his big hurdle may be learning the rallies.
He’s contested both Sardinia and Greece before, but Sweden, Croatia and Estonia will be new to him.
Originally a circuit racer who’s turned to rallying, Tom Rensonnet’s career path and progression perfectly aligns with the rally pyramid the FIA has designed.
Beginning his career at the end of 2020 in a Rally4 Peugeot, Rensonnet’s first real commitment were the French and Belgian Clio trophies in a Rally5 example before stepping up to a Rally4 Clio and winning the Belgian junior championship last year.
This year he steps up to Rally3 and therefore gets his first taste of four-wheel-drive rallying, and indeed gravel and snow events as all he’s ever done is Tarmac. He’s at least not without WRC experience though, having driven Ypres Rally Belgium both years it was a round of the championship.
What Rensonnet lacks in experience he should more than make up for in talent.
Did anyone see this coming? M-Sport’s new WRC2 signing Grégoire Munster will also compete in JWRC this year in an M-Sport Poland Fiesta as he bids to gain as much experience as possible.
Munster is an obvious pick as champion elect given his wealth of four-wheel-drive experience that culminated in a WRC2 victory on the season-closing Rally Japan last year.
He’s never driven a Rally3 car in competition before but his Rally2 experience of the past and of course this year too shouldn’t make that a problem.
Sweden and Sardinia will be new events to him this year, but he’s contested Croatia, Estonia and Greece before.
Maybe not a name all WRC fans are familiar with, but avid followers of the European Rally Championship last year will be more than aware of what Laurent Pellier can do.
After a couple of seasons in R5 machinery in 2018-19, Pellier took a career reset this decade and stepped down to the Opel e-Rally Cup for 2021 – a smart move as that built ties with Opel Motorsport and earned him a Junior ERC chance in 2022.
And Pellier cleaned up, dominating the class in a Corsa Rally4 to become one of the hottest prospects once again.
A step up to Rally3 and the WRC is the next logical step and he’s sure to be in the mix, but he has to make this season count as at 27 Pellier is the oldest driver on the entry list.
Also competing this season will be Spanish youngsters Raúl Hernández and Roberto Blach. Both are new to Junior WRC but have impressive resumes to date.
Hamza Anwar meanwhile represents Africa, replacing McRae Kimathi as Kenya’s JWRC representative. Anwar has never competed outside of Europe before but appeared in the WRC on 2021’s Safari Rally Kenya where he was second in class with the same car he will drive this year.