FIA rally director Yves Matton believes Thierry Neuville’s Ypres Rally victory earlier this month proves the FIA’s Rally Star concept works, as Neuville graduated from a similar scheme over a decade ago.
Rally Star, launched last year, is a global program from world rallying’s governing body designed to try and find the future talent of the World Rally Championship.
Open to drivers aged 17-25, ASNs across the world’s six continents have been holding competitions which begin with online racing on the WRC’s officially licensed video game before the best drivers progress to a regional autotest.
The winner from this will be entered into one of six continental finals – in Europe, Middle East, North Africa, Africa, Asia-Pacific, South America and North America – before four winners are crowned (including at least one female) who will compete in the following year’s Junior WRC.
Several regional finals have already taken place, with plenty more scheduled for later in the year.
While such a program wasn’t available when Neuville was a budding rally driver, he did win Royal Automobil Club of Belgium’s Rally Contest in 2008 which propelled him into the world championship just two seasons later.
Matton cast a watchful eye over Neuville’s early progress having helped run the Citroën Racing Trophy that Neuville won in Belgium in 2009, and was asked by DirtFish how satisfied he was to witness Neuville’s current level of performance in the wake of his home WRC victory in Belgium.
“What is important is, I want to say it showcases [that] what we are doing with FIA Rally Star is working because it’s the same case,” Matton said.
“He [Neuville] started with a junior program, he was integrated into a federation program and after, step by step, he was able to join the highest level and to join the drivers who are able to win these kinds of events.
“And for sure with him winning here [in Ypres] it really helps more.
“Thierry is deeply involved with us now with his CrossCar program, involved also in Rally Star and what he has achieved not only for him but for everyone, it can only help a lot the discipline.”
Neuville is far from the only current WRC driver to have benefitted from some sort of a talent detection scheme.
Seven-time world champion Sébastien Ogier – and M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux – are both winners of the FFSA’s famed Rallye Jeunes program while Teemu Suninen benefited from funding from Finnish motorsport’s governing body, AKK, by winning the Flying Finn Future Star Award in 2014.
Ott Tänak won the European Pirelli Star Driver shootout in 2009 to join five other drivers – including Hayden Paddon – in the 2010 PWRC in Pirelli-supported Mitsubishi Evo Xs.
Craig Breen did the same the following year, albeit competing in the JWRC instead of the production class, two years on from winning Motorsport Ireland’s Billy Coleman Award for the best young rally driver of the year.
And Takamoto Katsuta was scouted and picked for Toyota’s driver development program in 2015 as Toyota looked to bring a Japanese driver to the very forefront of world rallying.