The FIA Rally Star Middle East and North African Final winners have been crowned at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Oman’s Abdullah Masoud Altawqi earned a life-changing place in the FIA Rally Star Training Season in 2023 after he came out on top of two days of rigorous assessment and evaluation presided over a five-person jury. Meanwhile, Farah Zakaria qualified for the FIA Rally Star Women’s Final, which is due to take place in North America later this year, by completing the FIA Rally Star MENA Final as the leading female competitor.
In qualifying for the FIA Rally Star Training Season, Masoud Altawqi moves a step closer to a dream drive in the FIA World Rally Championship. At the end of 2023, the best four FIA Rally Star Team members are rewarded with a season in the FIA Junior WRC in 2024. For 2025, three drivers go forward into a second Junior WRC season. And if one of the FIA Rally Star Team members wins the title, they secure a WRC2 campaign in a Rally2 car for 2026 with a Rally1 drive their next target.
Masoud Altawqi joins Estonia’s Romet Jürgenson, the winner of the FIA Rally Star European Final in January, in the FIA Rally Star Training Season with four places still up for grabs at the remaining Continental Finals.
The seventh spot will go to the Women’s Final winner where MENA qualifier Zakaria will join Maja Hallén Fellenius (Sweden) and Katie Milner (United Kingdom), the joint top female performers in the European Final in Germany.
How the FIA Rally Star MENA Final was won
Day three of the FIA Rally Star Middle East and North African Final was held in warm and dry conditions with the 12 qualifiers from Saturday’s stages in action on a purpose-built gravel course. The 1.0-kilometre layout was set up in reverse direction from the previous day to add to the challenge facing the drivers.
After completing their timed runs in the Pirelli-equipped, 115-horsepower TN5 Cross Car from FIA World Rally Championship ace Thierry Neuville’s LifeLive organisation, the 12 drivers were interviewed by the five-person jury headed by former rally driver Pernilla Solberg and including WRC stage winner Gus Greensmith. The 12 also underwent physical assessment to determine their fitness levels.
The four best-performing drivers progressed to the deciding phase of the competition with Masoud Altawqi eventually chosen as the winner following lengthy deliberation by the jury.
Pirelli Rally Activity Manager Terenzio Testoni, French racing driver turned karting coach David Terrien and M-Sport Poland head Maciej Woda joined Greensmith and jury President Solberg on the decision-making panel.
Patrik Hallberg from Sweden, who was selected as the Reserve Driver at the FIA Rally Star European Final, was also in attendance as the Driver Advisor.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Abdullah Masoud Altawqi, 23, from Oman, FIA Rally Star Middle East and North African Final winner: "I’m very happy to have won the FIA Rally Star. We tried the cross cars during the shakedown, it was very hard to drive. I got used to it during the qualifying day and final, the competition was intense, but I finally won!"
Farah Zakaria, 23, from Jordan, FIA Rally Star Middle East and North African Final winner:"I’m so happy to have won! It has been a super experience, I would like to congratulate the other competitors that have participated. I’m really looking forward to represent Jordan during the Women’s Final in America."
Anthony Dagher, 21, from Lebanon, FIA Rally Star Middle East and North African Final reserve driver: "I’m very happy to have been chosen. I love motorsport so I really enjoyed the event, it was a new experience for me and I hope to be able to continue in motorsport!"
Moath Alshishani, 24, from Jordan, Top 12 qualifier: "I really enjoyed the Rally Star event, it was also a new experience for me to drive on dirt and with this cross cars, I’m very pleased to be here in Abu Dhabi for the MENA final. I’m working on continuing in motorsport, and hopefully I’ll be able to make it."
George, Polykarpou, 23 from Cyprus, Top 12 qualifier: "I love motorsport, so it was a great experience to be here for the MENA Final and represent Cyprus. I would like to thank the FIA and Rally Star for organizing this and gathering so many people from several countries."
Mahir Badri, Chief Executive Officer of the Emirates Motorsports Organization (EMSO): "We are glad to have hosted this event in collaboration with the FIA. We can see that the participants are happy to be here.Cross car is a fantastic discipline, EMSO and the FIA are trying to attract more people to compete in motorsport, especially the ones at the younger age. Looking at the MENA region, rallying, cross country and baja, are part of our history, those disciplines have also an important place in the world of motorsport. We think cross car is another important discipline to attract youngsters into auto racing because it is entraining."
Pernilla Solberg, Jury Chairwoman, Former Driver: "I’m very happy and it’s an honour to be here in Abu Dhabi for the Rally Star MENA final. It’s a tough job, to be part of the jury, because they are good drivers and it’s not easy to make the right decision. Speed is the important criterion of course, but with the members, we like to find out what kind of person they are, how they take care of the car, how clean they are. Because we need to find a person who can work within a team, with engineers, mechanics and it’s important to see how they communicate. To have all of these criteria is what makes it interesting."
Terenzio Testoni, Jury member, Pirelli Rally Activity manager: "Developing future World Rally champions is part of Pirelli’s DNA and it was therefore a privilege to have been present at the FIA Rally Star Middle East and North African Final. What was impressive was the number of drivers wanting to get involved but above all the strong commitment shown by all the national federations in this project. Together with their support, we have surely discovered some very promising talents. In contrast to Estering for the European Final in Germany where we had a lot of rain to contend with, we had dry conditions and ambient temperatures close to 30 degrees centigrade here in Abu Dhabi. The humidity was very high so it was a challenging event for everyone."
Gus Greensmith, Jury Member, WRC Driver: "I never thought I would be judging other people or trying to help them to get to the next point in their career, when starting mine. It’s great to be here, the weather is beautiful, and I can see that everyone is enjoying themselves. I spoke with a few of the drivers, by trying to give a few pieces of advice with Patrik Halberg (FIA Rally Star European Reserve Driver), it was nice speaking to them and letting them know how things were going and if I can offer any input to help them, but it seems that a few of them have a good level of talent."
Maciej Woda, Jury Member: Jury Member, M-Sport Poland: "I didn’t know what to expect but it has been a fantastic experience. A big congratulations to the FIA and partners for organizing this. We have seen many competitive drivers, they were learning and improving quickly run after run. It made our choice very difficult, there was a lot of pressure for finding the winner."
David Terrien, Jury Member, Former Karting World Champion: "It was a great event. Looking at the prize, it was a huge opportunity for all the drivers competing here. I have been here since the Shakedown, and I have been very impressed with their lap time improvement, especially with the drivers qualified for the final that were very fast, and also knowing that they had no experience before racing here. It was a hard decision to take because it was a close competition. All the members of the jury were very involved, we tried to go deep into the discussions with the drivers’, because this is event is going to be a life-changer for the winner."
Twenty drivers representing eight countries took part in the FIA Rally Star MENA Final. And while there were only two winners, all competitors were able to showcase their skills, represent their respective countries in a sporting arena and gain vital experience for the future.
Apart from any initial registration fee to take part in a national selection event, plus travel costs to and from national selections and the Continental Final, all other costs are covered by the FIA with support from the FIA Innovation Fund together with the FIA Rally Star partners. The partners are M-Sport, Pirelli, the FIA World Rally Championship, Nacon, Thrustmaster, Playseat, Digital Motorsports, OMP and LifeLive.
Zwartkops Raceway in Pretoria, South Africa, will host the FIA Rally Star African Final from May 27-29. Details of the upcoming Asia-Pacific, North American and South American Finals will be announced in due course.