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GP Week : Issue 33
Stars in their eyes O This weekend, the Pirelli Star Driver line-up will be confirmed. By MARTIN HOLMES CTOBER 25 will be a day of special significance for two young European rally drivers. On that day, two more young (under 27) stars will win Pirelli’s Star Driver scholarship schemes, this time at the end of the European shoot-out to be held in Austria. These drivers will join those from Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East who have already been awarded, or are about to be awarded, the chance to contest six rounds of the 2009 World Rally Championship. The Star Driver scheme is the pay-back idea that came as part of the single supplier control tyre contract, which the FIA awarded to Pirelli. And it is one of the most imaginative developments in recent times on rallying. Basically, the deal is six free drives, with each of the five drivers to run identical cars (which type of car or who will run the car not yet being decided), in the hope that one or more of them will then show the sort of promise that will encourage professional teams to take their careers further. Drivers are being selected from four different parts of the world, the selection processes differing from region to region. Two of the series, Africa and the Middle East, chose the same form of selection process – a season-long mini-championship for eligible drivers, based on the results of championship qualifying rounds in their region. The selection system from the Asia Pacific series was different. The season had already gone too far for a mini-championship to be feasible or fair, so instead a shoot-out was arranged at the qualifying event in Malaysia in 42 early October. The winner was the eligible driver who was the fastest on the stages through the two-day event, whether or not they were counted as a finisher. The fourth and final region was even more elaborate. What started off as the European regional championship shoot- out turned out to be something much bigger in concept, a stand- alone event to be held in Austria, which will happen this weekend. The first driver to be awarded a scholarship came from Africa, South African Jon Williams taking his VW Polo S2000 to the top of the regional mini- championship table, beating two drivers from Kenya. And after a most exciting shoot-out in Malaysia, when no fewer than 10 eligible drivers turned up, New Zealander Mark Tapper gained the scholarship. The Middle East series will be the final to be decided. Here there are three eligible drivers the Cypriots, Nick Georgiou and Nicos Thomas, and Yazeed Al Hajri from Saudi Arabia. Planning the European shoot-out has been a nightmare of changing objectives and adjusting to unexpected circumstance. Firstly, the competitors eligible to take part in this event were to be selected by the national federations of the countries that actively organised rounds in the FIA’s European Rally Championship, of which originally there were 10 before one withdrew. Clearly, this was not a wide enough catchment area, so it was immediately expanded to drivers nominated by European countries who also organised rounds of the World Championship, and Asia Pacific Star Driver candidates at Rally of Malaysia ultimately expanded further to accept drivers nominated by the promoters of the South America (Codasur) and the Central America (Nacam) zone championships. And, because the stand- alone event was to be run in a neutral country, a driver from Austria was also included. All the eligible countries except Monte Carlo and Croatia made their nominations, but it wasn’t straightforward – some of the nominations were more equal than others ... In the minds of Pirelli and the FIA, the Star Driver scheme was to help develop the careers of young emerging drivers, but when Sweden, Czech Republic, Poland and Austria nominated drivers of proven international success, their drivers were told at a very late date that they should stay at home and more appropriate drivers be nominated instead.