Fourteen of Africa’s most promising FIA World Rally Championship hopefuls head into the crucial day of the FIA Rally Star African Finals tomorrow to compete for one of motorsport’s most coveted prizes.
A driver exits Zwartkops Raceway near Pretoria on Sunday evening, securing a place in the 2023 FIA Rally Star practice season.
But it will take another day of competition in Thierry Neuville’s LifeLive organization’s Pirelli-equipped TN5 Cross Car, plus a fitness assessment and an interview with the five-person jury to decide who can look forward to this life-changing experience.
28 riders set off this morning hoping to make it to the afternoon stage. Sixteen, including three women, made progress with the stage layout being adjusted to include a gravel section and chicane for the second part of the day.
Before the action resumed, the 16 participants completed a tour of the track accompanied by the members of the jury, led by Robert Reid, winner of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship for co-drivers and FIA Deputy President for Sport. Title-winning South African rally driver Guy Botterill joined the judges in his role as driver adviser.
Twelve riders, including two from the Digital Challenge, made it to Sunday’s final day, where a roughly 2700-metre stage layout awaited the qualifiers.
The jury decides the number of runs each contestant must complete, taking into account those stage performances and performances from earlier in the event, while also considering how well each contestant performs during an interview.
The judges also consider the results of a physical assessment consisting of a running session and a reflex test. The jury’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.
The eventual winner of the FIA Rally Star African Final follows the winners of the European and MENA Finals in qualifying for the 2023 FIA Rally Star training season.
In addition to six rallies in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally3, the practice season package includes physical and intellectual assessment, driver coaching and testing. The aim is to equip the successful participants with the qualities they need to secure a place in the FIA World Rally Championship in the future.
Working under Jury President Robert Reid are Alexandre Bengué, a former WRC driver, Alberto Ferloni from Pirelli, Pernilla Solberg, ex-rally driver and mother of rising WRC star Oliver Solberg, and Maciej Woda from M-Sport Poland.
WHAT YOU SAID:
Jérôme Roussel, FIA Rally Star Project Manager: “It wasn’t a big challenge to organize this event as we had the full support of Motorsport South Africa. They helped us find this circuit and we couldn’t have asked for a better one. It’s a very nice track with high and low speed corners, mixed surface with gravel and tarmac and it’s very challenging for the drivers. Thanks to the LifeLive mechanics, the machines work smoothly, so we like being here.
We know there is a great passion for rallying in Africa, we saw several drivers from several countries and we saw that they wanted to be the next champion. With qualifying starting today, thanks to the shakedown we’ve seen that they’ve improved their lap times, the competition is getting closer and that’s a good thing.”
Maciej Woda, Jury Member & Managing Director of M-Sport Poland: “We are looking for the ideal driver, we are looking for a talented driver, ideally someone who has never competed in any type of motorsport before but who we can see a certain speed in. Of course, speed is key in rallies, but we are looking for someone who is mature, able to concentrate, has an interest in the sport and knows how to improve his performance.
It’s interesting to see how many drivers ask for advice, we can always go to them, explain them and teach them. But the key is to show that the interest comes from them, when they come to us and ask what we think and how we can improve, it shows that the rider is particularly interested and ready to move on. ”
Cristian Bouché, Automovel e Touring Clube de Mocambique, Mozambique ASN: “Rallying is not our forte in Mozambique, we’ve only had a few events that were cross-country rallying. This is our first encounter with an actual selection event related to the rally. This project is fantastic and has done a great deal to bring the discipline of rallying to countries that are not interested in the sport.”
Prince Nyerere, 24, from Tanzania, Top 14 qualifier: “It’s a great opportunity for young drivers to show their talent and I feel very privileged to be here so a huge thank you to the FIA. I qualified through the #Rallyathome challenge, so this proves that you don’t need a lot of money to get involved in motorsport. It was a great opportunity to learn from the shakedown yesterday and we continue to learn every day.”
Robyn Isaacs, 25, of South Africa, Top 16 Qualifier: “I love this event, it’s a dream come true and I’m so happy that the FIA Rally Star is taking place here in South Africa. The shakedown gave me confidence as I’ve never driven a clutch car before so it was flat out today! I’ve always been interested in rallies, but only as a co-driver and it’s been an incredible experience.”