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It was a tough start to his first ever rally for Max Smart, the young Cape Town motocross rider, and professional Irish codriver Lorcan Moore as the FIA Rally Star training season began on the San Marino Rally which finished in that country on Saturday evening (June 17).

Max who qualified for the programme as the winner of the African final, was one of 6 FIA Rally Star drivers in action, on the mainly gravel event, which forms part of the Italian national championship.

A rollover caused by catching a rut during a third run through shakedown provided a severe dent to Max’s confidence not to mention a big challenge to the M-Sport Poland support team who put in a major effort to repair and ready the Fiesta Rally 3 in time for the start.

The rally was the first of a 6 event schedule designed to equip the 6 aspiring future FIA World Rally Championship winners with essential skills. It also gave the more experience of the Pirelli equipped Ford Fiesta Rally 3 designed, prepared and maintained by M-Sport Poland.

Armed with extensive guidance and knowledge handed out by industry experts during the intensive FIA Rally Star training camp in Sardinia last month, Max and the other 5 drivers headed to San Marino eager to put theory into practice, and gain as many kilometres of experience as possible.

While 4 of the 6 Rally Star finalists had rallied previously, the San Marino based event represented uncharted territory for Max and fellow driver Jose Caparo , whose competitive experience was restricted to motocross and karting respectively.

Under the close supervision of the FIA Rally Star program representatives on site, Max was one of the 3 FIA Rally Star drivers to reach the finish of the event, albeit that he was beaten by the other 2. A spin in stage 2 of the rally did nothing to restore Max’s confidence after the previous day’s rollover, but from there on he gradually rebuilt both speed and confidence, gaining valuable experience and knowledge for the next event, in the series of 6 in which he and his colleagues will compete in 2023, namely the all tarmac Rallye Weiz in Austria in the middle of July.

FIA Rally Star project leader Jérôme Roussel said “we can take many positives from the first FIA Rally Star training season event, as can all the drivers, and this is the most important aspect of the weekend. It was not an easy rally by any means and that was reflected in the rate of retirements amongst many experienced drivers. The target was to get all 6 cars to the finish and while that was not possible for all, the lessons learned will be shared between the entire group. They will all head to the next event with so much invaluable experience and knowledge to build upon. We are already working with them to highlight what was good and what can be improved in terms of how they performed both inside and outside the car. There is work to do, but there was so much potential on show.”

Max Smart added “The start was hectic and it did damage my confidence a bit. But I was back in the zone by the end of the rally and it was good to be at the finish. I learned a lot about pace management and how much of a head game rallying is. You have to control yourself, trust your pace notes, and develop consistency. You need to be is calculated as possible with your line and movements. But I feel like a rally driver 100%, I will be doing more preparation and cannot wait for the next event.”

All costs associated with this program are covered by the FIA and the best for drivers at the completion of the 2023 FIA Rally Star training season will secure fully funded season in next year’s FIA Junior WRC Championship, and Max has his sights set firmly on being one of those FIA

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