The Pan-European selection process for the ?Pirelli Star Driver' is a big success

The very first pan-European selection process for the 'Pirelli Star Driver' award has been characterised by some excellent local organisation, lots of hard work from the competing drivers, and a truly special atmosphere. After two very demanding days for the 18 candidates, an international panel of rally experts have made up their minds: the two winners come from Finland and the Czech Republic.
The pan-European Pirelli Star Driver selection process has lived up to all its high expectations. During two extremely intense days, the 18 drivers summoned for the shoot-out in Freistadt (Austria) first had to prove themselves in a series of interviews conducted by different members of the judging panel, and then had to demonstrate their practical skills on six special stages. Victory eventually went to two drivers from Finland and the Czech Republic: Jarkko Nikara and Martin Semerad. 

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% of my chances. Once I got into the car I gave it 110%, 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."

 The very young Martin 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. I'm also very pleased to be competing next year alongside my very talented compatriot, Martin Prokop," added Semerad, who comes from Prague.

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 abilities of the different drivers were clear to see during this specially-designed selection process, which allowed the panel of experts to assess the candidates' qualities both on and off the stages after some careful study and reflection.

The judging panel consisted of Walter Rohrl and Michele Mouton, both stars of the World Rally Championship in the 1980s, British journalist David Evans, Pirelli's Rally Manager Mario Isola, Rally Portugal organiser Joao Passos, and the team manager of Tommi Makinen Racing Kevin Morris.
Peter Tyson, Pirelli's Motorsport Marketing Director, said: "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. 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."