European Pirelli Star Drivers Chosen
Following two demanding days of rally action, the European winners of the Pirelli Star Driver have been named. Challenges faced by the 18 candidates included a series of interviews with the judging panel and a demonstration of practical skills on six driving stages, and based on their performance Finland’s Jarkko Nikara and the Czech Republic’s Martin Semerad were selected to represent the region.
Nikara, who is 22 years old and comes from Saarijarvi, said: “If I say that I’m really happy to win it might sound stupid, but I was so disappointed after my interviews with the judging panel yesterday that I was convinced I had blown about 80 per cent of my chances. Once I got into the car I gave it 110 per cent, concentrating as hard as I could on my driving, and I think that was the best approach. I’m extremely proud to think that next year I will have the chance to compete alongside some other well-known young Finns on the World Rally Championship, and I’m massively grateful to the FIA and Pirelli for having organised an extraordinary event like the ‘Pirelli Star Driver’ programme. It gives me an exciting and unforgettable chance to live out my dream and drive on the World Rally Championship.”
Semerad, who has just turned 18, was even more surprised. “This is more than a dream for me,” he said. “Two weeks ago I had no clue about what was going to happen, and I was just thinking about my studies and preparing for a rallysprint event happening in the Czech Republic soon. Now I am a winner of the ‘Pirelli Star Driver’ contest and that is obviously a huge honour for me. I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet to be honest. I’ve only ever contested asphalt rallies before, but when I heard that I was going to compete on this event, I took part in a gravel rally in Germany – only last week. To be amongst the people chosen for the ‘Pirelli Star Driver’ programme is a simply fantastic opportunity, for which I would like to thank the FIA and Pirelli very much.”
The jury’s verdict will allow Nikara and Semerad the chance to take part in six rounds of the World Rally Championship next year (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Finland, Spain, and Great Britain) at the wheel of two of the five Group N or Super 2000 cars provided by the FIA and Pirelli.
“The event that took place in Freistadt was a genuine success in every way, and proof of the effectiveness of this method to find and support up-and-coming young rally stars,” said Peter Tyson, Pirelli motorsport marketing director. “All the drivers were extremely enthusiastic about the Pirelli Star Driver scheme, and I’m convinced that this is the way forward to uncover young talent – with of course one or two refinements in future, as is always the case after starting any brand new programme. Pirelli is extremely proud to have supported this initiative, which has met with a lot of praise from national sporting federations, teams, drivers, and the media.”