The FIA Rally Star Training Season enters its second half with the fast-paced gravel stages of the Saaremaa Rally in Estonia providing the latest opportunity for the six young FIA World Rally Championship hopefuls to learn and progress.
Based on the Baltic island of the same name from October 6-7, the mainly loose-surface route consists of 12 stages over a competitive distance of 124.76 kilometres.
It follows on from the gravel-based San Marino Rally, plus the all-Tarmac Rallye Weiz in Austria and the Rally Nova Gorica in Slovenia, in helping the FIA Rally Star Training Season drivers to build their experience and showcase their increasing pace and ability.
For each FIA Rally Star Training Season event, the FIA Road Sport Department works closely with the ASN of the host country and the local organising club. For the Saaremaa Rally the support of Estonian Autosport Union and Saaremaa Ralli MTÜ has been highly valued.
At the end of the FIA Rally Star Training Season, the best four performing drivers will progress to the FIA Junior WRC Championship in 2024 when they will compete in identical Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta Rally3s run by M-Sport Poland. The gilt-edged opportunity is being provided free of charge by the FIA, making the remaining FIA Rally Star Training Season events particularly significant.
To get this far, the FIA Rally Star six, who all have limited competition experience, had to qualify for their Continental Final via selection events organised by their ASNs or through online competitions. The winners of the five Continental Finals plus the winner of the Women’s Final were then chosen for the FIA Rally Star Training Season.
FIA Deputy President for Sport Robert Reid, who visited Rally Nova Gorica last month, has assisted with the driver selection process.
The challenge in store on the Saaremaa Rally
While it’s fundamentally a gravel event, the Saaremaa Rally features sections on asphalt. However, it’s the narrow stages that characterise the challenge facing the crews. Romet Jürgenson, the FIA Rally European Final winner, is from Estonia and contested the Saaremaa Rally last season. He explained: “In terms of speed it’s comparable to Rally Estonia but in terms of characteristics it’s completely different. Mainly it’s more narrow and there are a lot of places where you have these rock fences on both sides of the road. It’s also more straight and there aren’t so many crests like Rally Estonia. Because the surface gets quite muddy when it rains it’s even more slippery than the normal gravel you find in Estonia. Usually during the autumn it rains on Saaremaa but last year there was actually no rain at all.”
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After showing progress on Tarmac, Abdullah Al-Tawqi will be aiming to do likewise on gravel, a surface on which he’s competed on twice in the past. His commitment and dedication – and his desire to make the most of the opportunity of taking part in the FIA Rally Star Training Season – continue to shine through. He’s vowed to be as prepared as possible for the Saaremaa Rally.
Jose ‘Abito’ Caparo built on his impressive Rallye Weiz showing by again finishing second among the FIA Rally Star Drivers on Rally Nova Gorica. While he concedes “gravel is not my best surface”, he’s worked hard on his preparations and plans to be “patient and smart” in Estonia.
Annia Cilloniz was in an even more positive frame of mind after she achieved her first FIA Rally Star Training Season event finish on Rally Nova Gorica. She’s spent the lead up to the Saaremaa Rally – when she will return to her favoured gravel surface – by working on her pacenotes.
With gravel representing more familiar territory for Taylor Gill, who rallied on loose-surface events in his homeland before winning his place in the FIA Rally Star Training Season, the Australian is eager to hit back from the technical issues that hampered his progress on Rally Nova Gorica. Gill was the best-placed FIA Rally Star driver on the all-gravel San Marino Rally.
Romet Jürgenson excelled on Rally Nova Gorica by finishing an outstanding third overall to back up his RC3 class victory on Rallye Weiz. He won his class on the Saaremaa Rally last season, albeit in a front-wheel-drive Honda Civic.
Max Smart returns to the FIA Rally Star Training Season schedule boosted by experience-gaining outings on events in the United Kingdom and Ireland. He has also joined forces with new co-driver Cameron Fair, who partnered Jon Armstrong to the FIA ERC3 Championship title in a Fiesta Rally3.
FIA Rally Star Project Leader Jérôme Roussel said: “We saw some really strong performances from the FIA Rally Star drivers on Rally Nova Gorica, particularly from Romet Jürgenson. His achievement in finishing on the overall podium in a Rally3 car was really excellent considering Rally3 cars are less powerful and less technically advanced than the Rally2 cars he was competing against. After two events on Tarmac, the challenge now is to transfer what they have learned and experienced to gravel. The Saaremaa Rally was selected for the FIA Rally Star Training Season primarily because of the challenge it offers and the benefit this will bring to. Once again the aim for all six is to reach the finish, while also demonstrating their speed and their ability to work with and take on board the knowledge and guidance of the engineers, mechanics and the FIA Rally Star team.”
Romet Jürgenson said: “While the result on Rally Nova Gorica has given me a lot of confidence, I still have to think that I don’t have any result yet on gravel after I retired in San Marino. So for me it will be a steady start and then a case of progressively trying to find my speed. Once I find my speed, I will need to keep going in this way but let’s see how fast I can find it. However, I feel confident and it will be good to do this rally because there will be a lot of people coming to watch and a lot of good drivers taking part.”
FIA Rally Star Training Season participants (in Saaremaa Rally start number order)
22 Romet Jürgenson (23, Estonia) Co-driver: Siim Oja (EST)
23 Taylor Gill (19, Australia) Co-driver: Daniel Brkic (AUS)
24 Jose ‘Abito’ Caparo (26, Peru) Co-driver: ‘Willy’ Guillermo Sierra Ovalle (PER)
25 Max Smart (20, South Africa) Co-driver: Cameron Fair (GBR)
26 Annia Cilloniz (24, Peru) Co-driver: Esther Gutierrez (ESP)
27 Abdullah Al-Tawqi (24, Oman) Co-driver: Ronan Comerford (IRL)
FIA Rally Star Training Season event schedule refresher
The FIA Rally Star Training Season consists of six events, four on gravel and two on Tarmac:
San Marino Rally (Gravel), June 16-17
Rallye Weiz, Austria (Tarmac), July 13-15
Rally Nova Gorica, Slovenia (Tarmac), September 22-24
Rally Saaremaa, Estonia (Gravel), October 6-7
RallyRACC, Spain (Gravel), October 20-21
Lausitz Rallye, Germany (Gravel), November 9-11
A test will take place ahead of each event along with an extensive post-rally debrief. The FIA Rally Star Training Season events have been specifically chosen to equip the drivers with experience of a wide variety of conditions and circumstances.
The six FIA Rally Star Training Season participants will compete in identical Pirelli-equipped Ford Fiesta Rally3s run by M-Sport Poland.
All costs are covered by the FIA with the best four drivers at the completion of the FIA Rally Star Training Season securing a fully-funded season in the FIA Junior WRC Championship in 2024.
Published by: FIA Rally Star
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