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GP Week : Issue 71
Stars ascending THE sixth and final event in the programme for the 2009 Pirelli Star Drivers was run at Rally GB and ended one of the most interesting ventures seen in world championship rallying. Five award winning drivers were picked by a variety of methods and given free drives in Group N cars on a range of events in the championship, and left to see what transpired. There was no prize for the best performer at the end of the season, just a collection of memories and the hope that for some of them the season got them noticed favourably by teams. There may not have been competition between the selected drivers but there was a mighty competitive spirit in the run-up to the various selection processes. The deal was that one promising young driver should be selected from each of three FIA regions (Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East) and two from a mixture of the European, Codasur and Nacam regions. The methods of choosing the award winners ranged from straight championship placing, in Africa, and a straight placing in one particular event as in Asia- Pacific. The European/Codasur/ Nacam awards were made by Shoot-outs in which candidate drivers were present on the same event and selected according to unspecified criteria, and the Middle East selection criteria was unpredictable and led to the law courts... Each driver had an identical car, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X, prepared by Ralliart Italy, and this could have worked well but for the fact that the Evo X was still in the infancy of development and endless technical lessons were still being learned as the season progressed. In some ways this was very unfortunate, but in a weird way it created a real-life playing field for the drivers. Not every car that a potentially professional driver would be asked to drive was going to be perfect! The decision to use Evo Xs was originally thought to be ideal as most of the drivers had experience of Evo IXs, but when development of the car got seriously under way, it was soon discovered that the technical and driving differences between the IX and X could not be more radical. All part of the learning curve. Each driver had the same car assigned to them for the season, each car was presented at events in immaculate form with bright yellow Pirelli colours, with the flag of the nation of the driver on each side of the car. As many of the events in the programme were also rounds of the Production Car WRC, both Martin Semerad and Mark Tapper registered for that series as well, but that move did not in the end accomplish anything useful. The events which the selected drivers contested were Portugal, Sardinia, Acropolis, Finland, Spain and Britain -- a mixture of smooth and rougher gravel, and one asphalt event, all in Europe and all very established events in the world championship. How the drivers tackled the events was their own decision, but advice was on hand all the time. The backgrounds of each of the drivers themselves could hardly be more diverse. Jarkko Nikara came from Finland, the land of fast rallying; The Pirelli-backed Star Driver programme provides experience that would otherwise be impossible for up-and-coming drivers. MARTIN HOLMES looks back at the 2009 series WRC INSIGHT >> 39