Pirelli and FIA Announce 2011 Star Drivers for WRC
While Pirelli is exiting its World Rally Championship tyre supply deal at the end of this year to plough its motorsport resources into some sort of single-seater track series, its involvement in the 2011 WRC will live on in the six young competitors from around the world that triumphed in the Pirelli Star Driver Global Shoot-Out, which finished Sunday in Salou, Spain. The winning six – cut down from 16 – will become part of the FIA’s young driver programme which will be integrated into the newly-created WRC Academy next year. The six drivers will contest six rounds of the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship in Ford Fiesta R2s.
The winning drivers were: Ireland’s Craig Breen (b. 1990), who won the 2010 International Rally Northern Ireland; Italy’s Andrea Crugnola (b. 1989) and 2009 Suzuki Trophy Italy winner; the youngest ever overall winner of a rally in Sweden, Fredrik Åhlin of Sweden (b. 1991, and the youngest of the six); Jan Cerný from the Czech Republic (b. 1990), the 2010 European Rally Championship two-wheel drive winner; and two Australian drivers – 2009/2010 British Ladies Rally Champion Molly Taylor (b. 1988) and 2010 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship – Pacific Cup winner Brendan Reeves (b. 1988).
Pirelli Motorsport manager Mario Isola said: “It’s really exciting to see the next year of Pirelli Star Drivers coming through. Once again, I think we have found some real talent. Having drivers coming from across the world for the Shoot-Out has made this a very interesting event for us. Pirelli is proud to have backed the FIA’s young driver development initiative and we are delighted to see this continue into next season, maintaining Pirelli’s presence in the FIA World Rally Championship and furthering our rich history at the pinnacle of world rallying.”
Each driver also commented on the good news. Crugnola said: “I am very emotional now. It was a great weekend. I learned a lot of new things. I am very excited to drive the Fiesta on tarmac and gravel and I enjoyed my time here in Salou.”
Breen, who has started six WRC rounds, making him the most experienced, continued: “This is fantastic. It’s been a fantastic couple of days, there’s a lot of pressure, but this is a fantastic opportunity made possible by the FIA and Pirelli. It’s a great chance for a young driver like myself to be seen in the WRC. To be honest, at the moment, it’s a complete flow of emotion, but it’s time for me to move on to the next step of my career.”
Åhlin concurred: “It’s the best feeling ever. This is the best step ever. I am so happy right now. It’s been one of the toughest experiences; I was so nervous, but I wanted to do the best. When I saw the drivers and thought they were so good, I thought it was impossible [for me], but now I’m here.”
On Friday, prior to the driving element of the Shoot-Out, the 16 drivers – and their co-drivers – took part in a day-long training session with ESP, the company which has run the Pirelli Star Driver training for the last two years. After two lectures from ESP co-founder and 2001 FIA World Rally Champion co-driver Robert Reid, the 16 crews were split into four groups and undertook a team-building exercise which illustrated various aspects of the World Rally Championship and the sport in general.
Reeves declared the event “pretty amazing, right from the start with the training with Robert Reid. Then we came to the driving and we took that really seriously. The media interview went well this morning.” His compatriot Taylor felt “overwhelmed just to be sitting here. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often to be selected – I’m just pinching myself at the moment!”
Prepared for the day of competition, the drivers enjoyed the Spanish sunshine on Saturday as they lined up for their drives. Piloting Ford Fiesta R2s, the drivers tackled two runs at a gravel stage and two runs at an asphalt test, with Pirelli Scorpion tyres used for both surfaces.
After evaluating the driving skills of the 16 hopefuls, the potential Pirelli Star Drivers then made a presentation to the jury this morning, outlining their careers to date and aspirations for the future. They then answered questions from the judging panel – which included former world rally winner Michèle Mouton – before the jury selected the drivers they felt most deserving of one of the six available spaces on next year’s young driver initiative.
FIA World Rally Championship Commission President Morrie Chandler said: “This is the first time we have held a ‘global’ shoot-out. The camaraderie between the crews from various parts of the world was great to see and created a good competitive environment. I am sure all the participants learned from the experience.”
On being told of his success, Cerný took the opportunity to thank his father: “I feel great because this is a little dream. I am really happy. I want to thank my father and all the people; I hope the jury make a good choice. I am very happy.”
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