Final day of the FIA Rally Star European Final

by NIall Maher

Romet becomes Europe’s representative in the 2023 FIA Rally Star Training Season. This includes six rallies in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally3, plus physical and intellectual assessment, driver coaching and testing. Sweden’s Patrik Hallberg was selected as the reserve driver. 


The women’s award was shared by Maja Hallén Fellenius of Sweden and Great Britain’s Katie Milner. They will both progress to the Women’s World Final in the United States later this year. 

The other two candidates who advanced to the women’s Top 4 shoot-out at Estering were Aistè Perminaitè of Lithuania and Germany’s Sabrina Obenlüneschloss. 

The European Final comprised three days of intense competition from January 28-30 at the Estering rallycross track, southwest of Hamburg in northern Germany.


The winners were chosen from 89 competitors aged from 17 to 26 representing 22 nations. The candidates had to contend with wet and windy conditions over the three days including gale-force winds arriving last night and wreaked havoc with the Paddock facilities and track surrounds. 


The disciplines over the three days included not just timed track stages in identical TN5 Cross Cars from Thierry Neuville’s LifeLive organisation but also a digital challenge, reflex and skills tests and a formal interview and assessment with the FIA Rally Star Jury, chaired by Robert Reid, the FIA Deputy President for Sport. 

His fellow Jury members comprised, Pernilla Solberg, a class-winning rally driver, wife of 2003 FIA WRC champion Petter Solberg and mother of WRC driver Oliver Solberg, M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson, Terenzio Testoni, Pirelli’s Rally Activity Manager, and Thierry Neuville.


The FIA Rally Star European Final is the first of six FIA Rally Star Continental Finals in 2022. Results of the Continental Finals decide six of the seven FIA Rally Star Team members for 2023 with the seventh member coming from the all-female final contested later this year by the best-performing woman in each of the six Continental Finals. 


At the end of 2023, the best four FIA Rally Star Team members earn a season in the FIA Junior WRC Championship 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.

The aim of Rally Star is to provide a pathway to securing a drive in the FIA World Rally Championship in the future.

FIA Rally Star is supported by the FIA Innovation Fund together with the FIA Rally Star partners M-Sport, Pirelli, the FIA World Rally Championship, Nacon, Thrustmaster, Playseat, Digital Motorsports, Bell, OMP and LifeLive. 


 
WHAT THEY SAID: 

Romet Jürgenson, 22, of Estonia, FIA Rally Star European Final winner: “I am so proud to receive this award, I am honestly speechless. The whole experience has been great. I have to thank the FIA and all the people who have put this programme together. To experience the pressure of a competition like this and come out with some success is good training for my future career.”

Patrik Hallberg, 17, of Sweden, FIA Rally Star European Final reserve driver: “It feels great to be able to come here to such a cool event. To meet new people, learn new skills and achieve a good result is amazing. My goal has been driving Supercar in rallycross but I have never closed the door for rally. It will be a new step for me.”

Maja Hallén Fellenius, 19, of Sweden, FIA Rally Star European Final joint winner:  “It’s unreal, I have no words it’s crazy. I’ve been in motor sport for nine years now, racing in go-karts and single-seaters, but mostly track racing with tarmac and more grip. My learning curve has been huge during these three days. I participated in the first edition of the FIA Girls on Track, so I feel like I had a good head start for competitions like this. I’m really looking forward to the final and going to North America.” 

Katie Milner, 22, of Great Britain, FIA Rally Star European Final joint winner: “I came here with no expectations, entered with a wild card, it’s a different style of driving for me as well. I really enjoyed the journey so far, all the training, it has been the first time on a rallycross track changing from gravel to tarmac, learning to be under pressure, I loved it. I have been racing in British GT, but I came to a crossroads. This opportunity came up, so I said to myself ‘why not give it a go and see what happens?’. I need to knuckle down now, focus on training for the female final in America and fingers crossed.”
 
Sergi Pérez Benítez, 17, of Spain, Top 12 qualifier: “It has been a pleasure to be part of this programme. The most important thing for me is to enjoy the experience and to try to do my best. I love these Cross Cars. My ambition is to be a world rally champion and I will continue to push to reach my dream.”

Oskari Heikkinen, 21, of Finland, Top 12 qualifier: “The tension is high and everybody makes mistakes but the driver who makes the fewest mistakes and goes fast is the winner. So it’s good to improve your performance in competitions like this.”

Aistè Perminaitè, 25, of Lithuania, Top 4 qualifier: “I got a lot of experience and a lot of kilometres. I have only been racing for two years and I was competing against girls with a lot more experience than me, so I can feel proud. It’s important for Lithuanian women that I was able to come here and qualify for the shoot-out.”

Gregor Pavsic, Avto-Moto Zveza Slovenije, Slovenian ASN: “The FIA Rally Star competition means a lot for us. We are a small country with not a big international motor sport history. This is a big opportunity for our candidate Martin Cendak. With his results this week we want to show that young Slovenians can be successful in motor sport.” 
 

Robert Reid, FIA Deputy President for Sport: “The engagement with our member clubs is just as important as the final result of Rally Star because to grow the sport we need to grow the whole pyramid of the sport. To grow the base you need a broad base and a strong foundation. We want to drive the next generation. 

"The FIA Foundation support projects which are innovative and have a legacy aspect – the Rally Star programme meets both criteria really well. It’s a big commitment and a big vision to get six guys and one woman next year competing. But also more people that we have inspired at a national level.


“It’s nice to see that all the drivers have taken a lot out of it. Of course there were overall winners but it’s important for all the competitors to reflect on their performance and to improve their motor sport experience from what they take from this wonderful event. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime development programme opportunity on a global scale.” 

Jérôme Roussel, FIA Rally Star Project Leader: “All the challenges we have had with the weather over the past three day disappear when you see the look on Romet’s face when he was announced as the winner. His victory shows that the ASNs did a great job in identifying their talent. It is an amazing story when you consider Romet started out in a room with his own simulator, advancing through an online challenge and now he is the winner of the European Final. Rally Star was made for this kind of fairytale. The girls’ decision was a close call but both Katie and Maja showed enormous commitment and have been justly rewarded.”

Pernilla Solberg, Jury member: “A big congratulations to all 89 drivers who made it to the European Final. All the passion and the work the drivers have put in has been impressive. The Jury felt that there were two girls – Maja and Katie – were both worthy of sending to the Women’s final from this event. We wish them all the best for the next step in their careers. I also want to say well done to everyone who took part in the event.”

Terenzio Testoni, Jury member, Pirelli Rally Activity manager: “It was a very intense and exciting motor sport weekend, with a truly surprising participation in terms of both number and quality of the young drivers, who showed passion and competence. Congratulations to FIA and the national federations that made this possible. I believe that the champions of the future will come out of this programme, as was the case in the previous edition of the Rally Star. I am also very satisfied with the performance of our Scorpion GM which ensured performance and reliability to all competitors, even in strong winter conditions, with very low temperatures, wet and muddy surface.”

Thierry Neuville, Jury member: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I went through a similar selection programme in Belgium and it changed my life. It was not an easy selection as there were a number of talented drivers here. Of course speed is important but it’s not all about speed, it’s also about car control, about your approach and your motivation. We were looking for a rough diamond which you can form later.”
 
Top 16 qualifiers for Stage 3
Name Country Age Qualifying method
Filip Kohn Czech Republic 18 Slalom Challenge
Siim Aasmäe Estonia 23 #RallyAtHome Challenge
Romet Jürgenson Estonia 22 #RallyAtHome Challenge
Oskari Heikkinen Finland 21 Wild Card
Martin Čendak Slovenia 21 Wild Card
Sergi Pérez Benítez Spain 17 Wild Card
Kilian Santana Hernández Spain 19 #RallyAtHome Challenge
Isak Reiersen Sweden 18 Wild Card
Elliot Sjögren Sweden 17 #RallyAtHome Challenge
Robert Wilson United Kingdom 19 Slalom Challenge
Tommi Hallman Finland 21 Digital challenge
Patrik Hallberg Sweden 17 Digital challenge
Maja Hallén Fellenius Sweden 19 Digital challenge
Katie Milner United Kingdom 22 Slalom Challenge
Sabrina Obenlüneschloss Germany 26 Slalom Challenge
Aistè Perminaitè Lithania 25 Slalom Challenge
 
View images from FIA Rally Star European Final here.

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