FIA Rally Star expectations exceeded: Jürgenson wins Junior WRC, Gill runner-up on Croatia Rally


• Romet Jürgenson charges to breakthrough Junior WRC victory 
• Taylor Gill makes it an FIA Rally Star one-two with strong drive
• Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó bags maiden Junior WRC points in sixth position
• Max Smart takes seventh on first full asphalt event

Romet Jürgenson led home Taylor Gill in an FIA Rally Star one-two finish on Croatia Rally yesterday (April 21), a result that exceeded expectations and further endorsed the decision to select these two young talents for a life-changing FIA Junior WRC Championship adventure.

In only their second appearance in the hugely competitive category, Jürgenson (Estonia) and Gill (Australia) out-performed drivers with far greater experience – and on an event renowned as being one of the most challenging on the international calendar. 

Despite the demanding nature of the Croatian roads, Jürgenson and Gill both drove without error to register a landmark result for the FIA’s highly acclaimed talent detection initiative as well as their own burgeoning careers.

Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó and Max Smart also flew the FIA Rally Star flag in Croatia and finished sixth and seventh respectively after they both achieved the target of completing the full competitive distance in their identical Ford Fiesta Rally3s run on Pirelli tyres by M-Sport Poland. For two drivers that hadn’t rallied prior to last June, their achievements were also particularly noteworthy.

FIA Vice-President for Sport Europe Anna Nordkvist, WRC Commission Chairperson Pernilla Solberg and FIA Road Sport Director Andrew Wheatley were in Croatia to follow the FIA Rally Star drivers having sat on juries that helped to make the driver selection process.

The FIA Road Sport Department, which conceived and manages the FIA Rally Star programme, received extensive assistance from FIA Member Club, Croatian Car and Karting Federation, plus the Croatia Rally organising team.

FIA Rally Star Project Leader Jérôme Roussel said: “We were all very proud after three of four drivers scored points when they competed in the Junior WRC for the first time in Sweden, which was by no means a straightforward event. For all drivers to do so in Croatia means we couldn’t be prouder, especially given what Romet and Taylor achieved. Registering such good results is one thing but to do this so early in their careers and on such a demanding rally requires a huge amount of talent and determination, something they both clearly have.

"While we will all keep our feet on the ground, it’s important to stress the significance of their results and performances, which is a credit to their hard work and commitment but also a firm recognition of the support the FIA Rally Star programme was designed to provide. It really is such a good feeling and a great moment for many people but the priority now is to build on their achievements, so they are ready for their next challenge in Sardinia in six weeks. We were also very pleased for Jose and Max. They both had a few challenges to overcome in Croatia but it was great to see them listening hard and putting into practice everything they have been learning by completing the full rally route.”

FIA Rally Star Croatia Rally driver-by-driver round-up (listed in seeded order)

#50 Romet Jürgenson (24, Estonia) / Co-driver: Siim Oja (EST)

Made a deliberately cautious start on SS1 but then unleashed his full potential on SS2 by registering the first of nine stage wins. He claimed his maiden Junior WRC victory by 2m35.1s on only his second appearance in the highly competitive young driver championship.

Romet Jürgenson: “It’s been an amazing rally, the speed has been there and it’s been quite comfortable. I was not pushing over the limit with no mistakes throughout the rally, which is really good for the future. It’s never easy to just drive safely and manage the lead because when we were pushing on Friday and Saturday, it was full focus. But with a lead of more than two minutes starting the final day, we had to change the strategy although this made it more difficult to focus. The aim was to be in the top three, but the speed was maybe even better than I expected. I am incredibly proud of the whole FIA Rally Star team with all cars finishing in the top seven. It really shows that, if opportunities are given to the right people who are willing to work, amazing things can be achieved and it’s just the beginning.”

#56 Taylor Gill (20, Australia) / Co-driver: Daniel Brkic (AUS)

Got into his stride once he’d adjusted to the low and changeable grip of the Croatian sealed-surface stages. He was joint fastest with Jürgenson on SS5 then fastest of all on SS6. He also set the pace on SS14 to cement his runner-up status.

Taylor Gill: “I’m so happy. To be second after such a tough event is way more than we were expecting, especially after the first stage when we were ninth overall, so it’s been a really good climb up the ranks over the course of the weekend. I’d only done two Tarmac rallies in the FIA Rally Star Training Season last year so I basically doubled my Tarmac experience this weekend and I can’t wait to do more of it. It was a far-from-perfect-rally because there are so many things we could improve inside and outside the car. The slow start was more to do with me learning about the pollution on the road. But once we got on top of that the times started to come.”

#58 Max Smart (21, South Africa) / Co-driver: Cameron Fair (GBR)

On his first full sealed-surface rally, Smart shrugged off his lack of experience to finish seventh and make it two top 10 Junior WRC finishes in a row. Apart from a damaged tyre on SS3 and a few spins, Smart’s asphalt adventure was issue-free. 

Max Smart: “It was a really tough rally and it’s so good to be at the end. Every stage, every pass was completely different with all the cuts. Where you have grip and where you don’t is like two parallel worlds, so you really have to think. We had a few moments and a few silly mistakes but this was my first Tarmac rally, which is known as one of the toughest rallies on the calendar so it was amazing to have some good stages and really enjoy the rally. I’m really happy how we performed but there’s lots of ways we can do a lot better.”

#65 Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó (27, Peru) / Co-driver: Esther Gutiérrez (ESP)

Damaged his front bumper on his first shakedown run and was hampered by a damaged tyre on his second attempt. But he put those early issues to one side and stuck to the plan of a super-cautious approach to ensure he banked his first Junior WRC points.

Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó: “The feeling is amazing, my first rally finish with Esther and I’m incredibly proud. For sure, I was trying to aim for the top five but in the first day, I realised the other guys have more experience, so I worked on keeping it clean for all the stages, trying to show pace but also patience. For sure, the result is a lot more than I expected even though I was thinking I could be quicker. But there were so many changes of grip and so many surprises and you have to keep calm in situations like this. I need to improve myself but I also know there are guys I am competing against who have a lot more practice. We just need to keep going.”

FIA Junior WRC Championship event schedule refresher

The 2024 FIA Junior WRC Championship consists of five rounds as follows:
• Rally Sweden (Snow/ice), February 15-18
• Croatia Rally (Tarmac), April 18-21

• Rally Italia Sardegna (Gravel), May 30-June 2
• Secto Rally Finland (Gravel), August 1-4
• EKO Acropolis Rally Greece (Gravel), September 5-8

What’s next?

Venue for Italy’s FIA World Rally Championship round since 2004, Rally Italia Sardegna is characterised by hot temperatures, narrow and rough stages and the potential for hanging dust, which combine to make round three of the Junior WRC season a big challenge for both car and crew.

To know more about the FIA Rally Star programme, visit and follow @FIARallyStar on social media.