FIA Rally Star drivers Jose Caparo (Peru), Taylor Gill (Australia), Romet Jürgenson (Estonia) and Max Smart (South Africa) are set for more life-changing experiences in 2024 after they were selected to contest next season’s FIA Junior WRC Championship.
It follows their graduation from the FIA Rally Star Training Season, which concluded with a meeting of the FIA Rally Star Committee earlier this week.
The FIA Rally Star Committee reviewed the performances of the six drivers during May’s Training Camp and six rallies, three FIA European Rally Trophy rounds and three national-level events, using extensive and detailed analysis. But they also considered their potential to be able to take the next step of their careers as they embark on an FIA Junior WRC campaign in 2024.
In addition, the FIA Rally Star Committee considered feedback from Maciej Woda, whose M-Sport Poland organisation prepared and maintained the Ford Fiesta Rally3s used in the Training Season, plus the FIA Rally Star operational team, Nicolas Klinger, Bryan To and Project Leader Jérôme Roussel.
FIA Deputy President for Sport Robert Reid chaired the Committee, which included Road Sport Director Andrew Wheatley and representatives from the WRC, Rally, Drivers and Esports Commissions.
After considerable deliberation, they confirmed that Caparo, Gill, Jürgenson and Smart will graduate to FIA Junior WRC in 2024, a five-event competition using the latest-specification Fiesta Rally3 Evo equipped with tyres from official supplier Pirelli.
FIA Deputy President for Sport Robert Reid, the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship-winning co-driver and Chairperson of the FIA Rally Star Committee, said: “Firstly I want to say thank you to all the FIA Rally Star team, M-Sport Poland, Pirelli and all other partners for making the FIA Rally Star Training Season possible.
“It wasn’t easy organising five Continental Finals and the Women’s Final on the back of the disruption caused by the global health crisis, but we achieved something incredible by showcasing rallying’s accessible nature to a new generation of potential competitors around the world. At the same time, I also want to acknowledge all the FIA Member Clubs and volunteer officials for their endless efforts, support and contribution.
“We talked a lot during the FIA Rally Star Continental Finals about potential rather than mere performance because we were never only looking to see the levels of drivers now, but whether they can go further in the sport, not just next year but well into the future. It’s easy to measure performance but it’s more difficult to measure potential and that’s what we have worked very hard to do. After all, we were looking for drivers who can be FIA Junior WRC champion in 2025 and who we feel then have the potential to go on and become a genuine rally star of the future.
“In Jose, Max, Romet and Taylor we firmly believe we have four drivers with the necessary potential and we wish them well in delivering on this. The FIA Junior WRC won’t be an easy ride by any means, but with the support and expertise of the M-Sport Poland team, the FIA Junior WRC structure and the FIA Road Sport Department, they have the platform to be the next champions.
“Providing they keep working hard and progressing, Abdullah and Annia can also go far in rallying. However, the FIA Rally Star Committee agreed that the FIA Junior WRC in 2024 is just a step too far right now. We will remain in contact and I’m sure we’ll see them both in the service parks of the WRC in the future.”
Annia Cilloniz and Abdullah Al-Tawqi have been informed that, despite their best efforts and level of progress made, they were not considered ready to graduate to FIA Junior WRC in 2024. Their participation in the FIA Rally Star programme therefore comes to an end. However, they leave the process with every good wish and high hopes remain that they will use the experience and expertise gained during the FIA Rally Star Training Season to continue to pursue their competition careers.
Caparo, Gill, Jürgenson and Smart, who qualified for the FIA Rally Star Training Season by winning the American, Asia-Pacific, European and African Continental Finals respectively, can now start their preparations for the 2024 FIA Junior WRC, which begins on Rally Sweden from February 15-18.
Their participation in FIA Junior WRC is being fully supported by the FIA and the FIA Rally Star partners. At the end of 2024, the three best performing FIA Rally Star Drivers will receive the full support to contest a second FIA Junior WRC season in 2025 when the prize for the champion will be a step up to Rally2 level in the FIA WRC2 Championship in 2026.
FIA Rally Star Project Leader Jérôme Roussel said: “While the Lausitz Rallye marked the end of the FIA Rally Star Training Season calendar, it was the moment when the hard job really started: to select the four drivers who had shown the performance and the potential required to step up to FIA Junior WRC. With the vital input of the FIA Rally Star Committee, which is made up of a number of experts in the field of rallying and motor sport as a whole, we were able to select our own fab four. Jose, Max, Romet and Taylor experienced differing fortunes during the Training Season, but they also displayed the necessary potential. We have every confidence that they can maximise the opportunity they have been given in 2024 and we will follow their progression and adventures with a huge sense of pride but, above all, excitement. Like Jose, Max, Romet and Taylor, Abdullah and Annia also put in so much effort during the course of the FIA Rally Star Training Season. Sadly, we could only offer four FIA Junior WRC seats and Abullah and Annia were unfortunately not at the level required to fill one of those. As I said after the Lausitz Rallye, it would be my biggest disappointment if that event was their last in a rally car.”
Jose ‘Abito’ Caparo (26, Peru)
“FIA Rally Star has changed my life and this year was just incredible. Making my rally debut in San Marino was just a dream and each rally made me think a lot about the things I needed to improve. I thank everyone who helped me in making the decisions I needed to make for the next rally. But this is just the beginning because I have so much potential to achieve. Moving from Peru to Spain, not working but only looking to the next rally was a big step for me but I was able to commit all my energy to this project. Thank you to my co-driver Willy and for the opportunity we had to achieve our goals.”
Taylor Gill (20, Australia)
“It’s an absolute dream come true. It’s the result of everything we’ve worked towards over the last 12 months. I’ve dedicated my life to FIA Rally Star this year so it’s nice to know that’s paid off in the end because it’s not been an easy year. I’ve moved from Australia to Finland, got a job, shared an apartment with my co-driver so I’ve had lots of new life experiences but also new sporting experiences. To come out the other end having been selected is something I’m incredibly proud of and will be proud of forever. Rally Sweden will be a huge challenge, my first WRC rally and my first rally on snow. It’s almost the opposite of what I’ve done but I absolutely can’t wait to compete in FIA Junior WRC with the level of competition I’ll face. I’m so excited to get amongst it and hopefully raise my own level within that.”
Romet Jürgenson (23, Estonia)
“I gave everything I could to unleash my potential and the decision of the FIA Rally Star Committee proves I did it right. Fortunately, we had the opportunity and it’s an incredible opportunity for us youngsters that before FIA Rally Star didn’t have the chance ourselves. But with the help of this programme we could do some other events to really get some more experience. Going into Sweden will be really special as it’s going to be my first ever event on snow. It’s going to be special for sure, a dream but this whole year has been a dream and the possibility to compete in FIA Junior WRC really gets you excited.”
Max Smart (21, South Africa)
“I’m super-grateful to have been part of the FIA Rally Star Training Season and now to get his opportunity to compete in FIA Junior WRC. We gave our all to get his far and it’s more than a dream come true getting things right. I’m very proud of the progress we showed this year, especially on the last three events. There is so much in the bag in terms of what I have learned and what I can achieve and I’m really excited for next year. My first FIA Junior WRC season, driving in the snow in Sweden and just working with everyone again will be amazing.”
Abdullah Al-Tawqi (24, Oman)
“I am happy with what I achieved and the improvements I made to finish the rallies and show some progress. This disappointment doesn’t mean I will stop my career in rally. I will try to push and find the sponsorship to continue my career in Europe. That was my plan from the start. I left my university to do FIA Rally Star and now I can restart again to finish my studies. But I will not stop rallying and hope to do the Oman International Rally next year.”
Annia Cilloniz (24, Peru)
“I started this journey to become a rally driver when I was very young. I made big decisions in my life when I left university to enter the workshop for my job. Doing a rally in Europe was like a dream that I thought would only happen if one day I would be a millionaire and paying for my rallying myself when I’m old. I really want to thank FIA Rally Star for this opportunity, it was a dream come true. It was really, really amazing and I learned a lot. I know there is a lot to come and I am really grateful for what happened this year.”
Checking the data, considering the future
To select the four FIA Rally Star Drivers for FIA Junior WRC progression in 2024, the FIA Rally Star Committee considered extensive data gathered from the FIA Rally Star Training Camp and the six-event FIA Rally Star Training Season. This included comparing stage performances against drivers in Rally2 cars to understand the difference in seconds per kilometre achieved. How the drivers performed against a list of pre-season objectives was also assessed with the number of rally finishes, penalties, pace and driving skills among factors taken into account. The sporting and technical feedback of the drivers during briefing sessions was also considered. But throughout the process, the readiness of the drivers to compete successfully in the FIA Junior WRC was of primary importance, along with their potential for the future.
FIA Junior WRC Championship calendar 2024
• Rally Sweden (snow/ice), February 15-18
• Croatia Rally (asphalt), April 18-21
• Rally Italia Sardegna (gravel), May 30-June 2
• Secto Rally Finland (gravel), August 1-4
• EKO Acropolis Rally Greece (gravel), September 5-8
MSA would like to extend our warmest congratulations to Max Smart for being selected to contest in the next season of the FIA Junior WRC Championship. It is a great honor to be chosen as a representative for such a prestigious and competitive championship.
We have witnessed his dedication and passion for the sport, and we are confident that he will make us proud. We wish him all the best on his journey and we will be cheering him on every step of the way.