One of six continental finals being held to decide six of the seven 2023 FIA Rally Star Training Season participants, the event at Zwartkops Raceway, Pretoria, brings together 38 candidates from 11 African countries for three days of intense competition and assessment.
The candidates have qualified through Digital Challenges or Slalom Challenges organised by National Sporting Authorities (ASNs) or online through #RallyAtHome Challenges overseen by the FIA Rally Star administration. A further six have been selected as wildcard entries.
While the experience of the contestants differs with some only having had the opportunity to compete online, they will all approach the Final with the shared goal of trying to be the recipient of a place in the FIA Rally Star Training Season in 2023 when they will savour a life-changing experience. And with the four drivers who impress the most during the FIA Rally Star Training Season stepping up to the FIA Junior WRC Championship in 2024 as their prize, FIA Rally Star provides an incredible chance for young talents around the world to live their dreams at little or no personal expense.
31 males and seven females are preparing to take part in the FIA Rally Star African Final. As well as having their driving ability put under the spotlight in identical Cross Cars from WRC driver Thierry Neuville’s LifeLive organisation, their fitness level, interview technique and general aptitude will be tested with a five-person Jury deciding the eventual winner.
And whoever triumphs in South Africa will join Estonia’s Romet Jürgenson, the winner of the FIA Rally Star European Final in January, and Oman’s FIA Rally Star Middle East and North African winner Abdullah Al Tawqi in earning a place in the FIA Rally Star Training Season in 2023 to signal the beginning of their rallying adventure.
Further Continental Finals will take place in the Asia-Pacific, South American and North American regions during the upcoming months, while the seventh spot in the FIA Rally Star Training Season will go to the winner of the Women’s Final, which is due to take place in North America later this year.
Maja Hallén Fellenius (Sweden) and Katie Milner (United Kingdom), have qualified as the joint top female performers in the European Final in Germany, while Farah Zakaria from Jordan qualified through the FIA Rally Star MENA Final, held at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in March.
WHAT’S UP FOR GRABS AT ZWARTKOPS RACEWAY?
The winner of the FIA Rally Star African Final will have the honour of representing the region in the 2023 FIA Rally Star Training Season. In addition to six rallies in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally3, the Training Season package includes physical and intellectual assessment, driver coaching and testing. The aim is to equip the successful contestants with the attributes they need as they attempt to secure a drive in the FIA World Rally Championship in the future.
THEN WHAT HAPPENS?
At the end of 2023, the best four FIA Rally Star Team members are rewarded with 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.
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.
Participation in the Training Season in 2023, plus two years in the Junior WRC, essentially means three seasons of rallying free of charge for three drivers. Furthermore, all FIA Rally Star Team members will benefit considerably in terms of the experience and skills gained in 2023, plus the opportunity to showcase their ability to media outlets and potential sponsors and partners, rally teams and car manufacturers.
FIA RALLY STAR AFRICAN FINAL: HOW IT WORKS
The FIA Rally Star African Final takes place at the Zwartkops Raceway in South Africa from Friday May 27 to Sunday May 29. The format is explained below:
Day one (Friday May 27): The FIA Rally Star African Final participants are split into four groups for Stage 1, which measures approximately 800 metres in length. The drivers are allowed one reconnaissance run of the course ahead of two timed runs in identical Cross Cars. The classification of each group is determined by the fastest time of each driver.
Day two (Saturday May 28): The challenge increases on day two with Stage 2 approximately 1800 metres long. The finalists are again split into four groups and get the opportunity for one reconnaissance run followed by two timed runs in identical Cross Cars. The times of the two runs will be added together to determine the classification of each group with the two fastest drivers in each group qualifying for Stage 3. The two fastest drivers relative to the average of the two fastest in their group will also qualify for Stage 3. In the event that a female competitor does not qualify for Stage 3, the Jury may consider Stage 2 performances to determine the driver qualifying for Women’s Final or request a shootout is run during Stage 3. A Digital Challenge will provide an additional opportunity for drivers eliminated after Stage 2 to qualify for Stage 3.
Day three (Saturday May 29): A layout measuring approximately 2700 metres in length awaits the Stage 3 qualifiers. The Jury will decide the number of runs each competitor will have to complete and will take into account these and earlier stage performances and how they perform during an interview. The results of a physical assessment taking place during Stage 3 and made up of a running session and a reflex test will also be considered in deciding the FIA Rally Star African Final winner. The decision of the Jury is final and cannot be appealed.
DECIDING THE WINNER IS A CAREFULLY CONSIDERED PROCESS
The winners will be announced at 18h30 local time on Sunday May 29 after all drivers have been interviewed by the Jury (see below). The FIA Rally Star African Final is closed to spectators.
THE FIA RALLY STAR AFRICAN FINAL JURY
A five-person Jury will preside over the FIA Rally Star African Final consisting of:
Robert Reid (Chairman): Winner of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship for Co-Drivers and FIA Deputy President for Sport.
Pernilla Solberg (Member): An ex-class-winning rally driver, Solberg is the wife of 2003 FIA WRC champion Petter Solberg and mother of WRC driver Oliver Solberg.
Maciej Woda (Member): Woda heads up M-Sport Poland, the company behind the Ford Fiesta Rally3 and Rally4 cars. He also oversees the successful running of the FIA Junior WRC.
Alexandre Bengué (Member): Winner of the 1998 FFSA Rallye Jeunes edition, Bengué is a top-five finisher on WRC events and a former French rally champion.
Alberto Ferloni (Member): Part of Pirelli’s expert team of on-event tyre engineers, Ferloni has extensive experience of working with emerging talents in the FIA Junior ERC.
South African Guy Botterill, a class title winner in his national rally championship, will attend as the Driver Advisor.
WHO’S TAKING PART?
The 38 FIA Rally Star African Final participants include seven #RallyAtHome Challenge winners (from a total of 4147 entrants), 17 who secured their place through a Digital Challenge during a national selection event organised by an ASN, eight who were successful in Slalom Challenge events held by ASNs and six who have been selected as wildcards. There are 31 male and seven female finalists. The 12 Digital Challenges and five Slalom Challenges organised by ASNs in six countries attracted 261 contenders.
The following countries will be represented in the FIA Rally Star African Final:
WHAT THEY SAID
Jérôme Roussel, FIA Rally Star Project Leader: “The FIA Rally Star African Final not only represents the halfway point of the process to select the FIA Rally Star Training Season participants but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for young rallying talents with ambitions to progress to the sport’s top level to showcase their skills and gain invaluable experience. The response from ASNs across Africa has been good and from looking at the list of participants it’s clear there are lot of very enthusiastic and determined young people taking part. We’re expecting another great and memorable Continental Final and the chance to celebrate the latest worthy winner.”
Irene Leila Mayanja, Federation of Motorsports Clubs of Uganda General Secretary: “We are excited to be part of this project. Uganda has a number of young drivers. Through our autocross championship, we have encouraged such drivers to start racing. Now, with this FIA programme, they could easily get to the World Rally Championship.”
Kagiso Modibedi, Botswana Motorsports President: “The need for Botswana to participate in this programme is to ensure that we give Batswana who are interested in a racing career an opportunity to do so. Those who take part in the Final will bring knowledge to add to the local scene, and most importantly the experience that is gained from such competitions will further motivate them. It helps them to gauge their skills against the best on the continent.”
In the spotlight: Sidoine Assande, 20, Ivory Coast
You are about to represent your country in the FIA Rally Star African Final. How would you describe this opportunity?
“It is a great pride for me to participate in the FIA Rally Star African Final under the Ivorian flag. Côte d'Ivoire is already known in Africa in the world of motor sport and this is another opportunity to make it known.”
What have you done to prepare for the FIA Rally Star African Final?
“I have spent many hours on the simulator. Besides, I have been driving cars of all types for a few years. I have also been part of some teams during the Ivory Coast Rally Championship. Outside of racing, I devote most of my time to my studies.”
Who is your hero in motor sport and why?
“Sébastien Loeb for his record, his consistency and his incredible ability to adapt. Like any motor sport enthusiast in general and rallying in particular, I aspire to be a professional.”
In the spotlight: Kambwali Chani, 24, Zambia
You’re a Digital Challenge winner but have you had the opportunity to drive for real?
“Over the last 10 years I have participated in karting challenges held by our country's top karting company and won a number of them. I have also gained some experience driving 2-stroke karts. For the last four years I have focused a lot of my efforts on simracing and a few years ago I had the opportunity to participate in the Volkswagen Motorsport Academy.”
How have you prepared for the FIA Rally Star African Final?
“I was very fortunate to win the opportunity to participate in the African Final, but I was very unprepared financially. So, unfortunately, I have spent most of my time trying to put together the money for the trip. But I’m working to put myself in a good place mentally to help me appreciate this privilege and make the most of this opportunity.”
What would getting the opportunity to become a rally driver mean to you?
“On most weekends I teach kids interested in motor sport how to race go-karts at my local rental kart circuit. I have always dreamed about an opportunity to have my name abbreviations beside the Zambian flag like all racing professionals do, so to have this chance would be a huge honour for me.”
In the spotlight: Paige de Jager, 26, South Africa
What does the opportunity to represent your country mean to you?
“It is the first time, so I am incredibly proud and grateful for the opportunity because South Africa holds a very special place in my heart. I want to do my country proud.”
Why do you think you were selected as a wildcard?
“I won a Digital event and also a Slalom event in the female category. Furthermore, I have been extremely passionate about motor sport since I was a child, I am sure the judges noticed this.”
What do you hope to achieve in the FIA Rally Star African Final?
“My main objective is of course to win a spot in the FIA Rally Star Team in 2023 or to make it into the Women's Final. However, I am also aiming to gain as much knowledge as I can along the way. Furthermore, I would also want to be a role model for young women to show them that this could be them next year.”
In the spotlight: Mogomotsi Mabusela, 19, South Africa
How did you hear about the FIA Rally Star African Final and the opportunity on offer?
“It was on a Google news feed from an article on News24. The next day I bought the WRC game and the DLC and it’s great to compete in this event and represent South Africa.”
Have you set any career targets?
“My career ambition is to be the greatest in motor sport by being a world champion. But I would also like to build a career outside motor sport. I would like to build and finance new inventions and ideas and solve problems whether they may be economic or social.”
What actual driving experience do you have?
“Enough to get my driving licence but that is all. I’m a student and I love to read and watch and study investing and economic strategies as well as my love of cars. I have trained at the gym, mainly core and strength training.”
In the spotlight: Axel Ruzindana, 25, Rwanda
You qualified as a Digital Challenge winner but how much real driving experience do you have?
“I started driving when I was 13 and developed a passion for motor sports at the age of 17. Other than that, I had never had the opportunity to participate in any rally competition, and the FIA Rally Star African Final came as a great opportunity for my dream to come true.”
How have you prepared for the FIA Rally Star African Final?
“I have been practicing at the Kigali Arena E-sports on a daily basis to improve my performance and I hope to see this pay off.”
What do you do when you are not competing?
“I work in the banking sector but my dream has always been to work for my country in any possible aspect, whether it be representing it in motor sports or any other thing that fits. I believe that this opportunity not only puts my country on the map, but it also encourages the younger generation to try motor sports.”
INTRODUCING THE PIRELLI-EQUIPPED TN5 CROSS CAR
The TN5 Cross Car from Thierry Neuville’s LifeLive organisation is used by all drivers tackling the timed stages. The Cross Car (XC) category is off-road motorsport’s equivalent to karting. XCs are accessible and affordable single-seaters using a tubular spaceframe chassis powered by a motorcycle engine and provide young drivers with the opportunity to build their skills on gravel before they are old enough to hold a driving licence. Pirelli will fit all TN5 XCs with a tyre designed for use on historic-specification cars to meet the unique requirements of the cars, while ensuring rally-level grip and performance.
Following the FIA Rally Star African Final further Continental Finals will be held in the Asia-Pacific, North American and South American regions with full details to be announced in due course along with updates on the arrangements for the Women’s Final, which is due take place in North America later this year.