Tarmac challenge up next for Croatia-bound FIA Rally Star crews


2024 FIA Rally Star - Croatia Rally event preview

• Romet Jürgenson aiming to build on strong beginning to Junior WRC adventure
• Taylor Gill hoping previous Tarmac knowledge will aid ongoing progression
• Max Smart preparing for first full sealed-surface rally outing
• Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó targeting maiden Junior WRC finish
• FIA Rally Star journey now available with YouTube series Be The Next One

The FIA Rally Star drivers will take on a tough Tarmac test this week (18-21 April) when they continue their FIA Junior WRC Championship adventure on Croatia Rally.

Having gained their first taste of Junior WRC action on the ice-coated Rally Sweden stages in February, Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó, Taylor Gill, Romet Jürgenson and Max Smart will aim to put their asphalt learning into practice during four challenging days behind the wheel of their identical Ford Fiesta Rally3s.

But Croatia Rally is no ordinary Tarmac event with changeable grip, frequent surface variations, plus numerous jumps and crests ever-present on the 20-stage route, which totals 283.28 kilometres. Fluctuating temperatures and the prospect of mixed weather conditions could also be a factor.

The event is the only sealed-surface rally on the Junior WRC schedule and takes place ahead of three all-gravel rounds in Sardinia, Finland and Greece.

As well as completing a day of Tarmac testing in Croatia, the FIA Rally Star drivers took part in an intensive mental and physical training workshop managed by Elite Sports Performance in Edinburgh, Scotland, in close collaboration with the FIA Rally Star team. 

Into the FIA Rally Star journey with Be The Next One on YouTube

Fans can follow the fortunes of six aspiring FIA world champion rally drivers with the release of Be the Next One, a five-part series available on the FIA’s YouTube channel from April 10.

Produced by the FIA, Be the Next One tells the story of how rookie competitors were discovered through the FIA Rally Star talent detection programme and their journeys to Sweden for the start of their FIA Junior WRC Championship adventure.

The Be the Next One mini-series also charts how the quartet – who had little or no previous motor sport experience – progressed from their national selection events through to the Continental Final stage and then into the FIA Rally Star Training Season, where they earned their places in the FIA Junior WRC for 2024.

It follows the various national selection events, discovers how the Continental Finals were won and the life-changing opportunities given to the winners – and hears from FIA Deputy President for Sport Robert Reid plus several jury members who helped in the rigorous selection process. Click here to watch the first episode.

FIA Rally Star latest news and views

Romet Jürgenson used his additional competition programme to contest Rally Karlovac, the opening round of the Croatian championship, earlier this month. With Siim Oja co-driving their Ford Fiesta Rally3, Jürgenson won his class in fourth overall. Jürgenson starts Croatia Rally as the best-placed FIA Rally Star driver in the provisional Junior WRC standings following his runner-up finish in Sweden. But with Rally Sweden winner Mille Johansson not competing on the Zagreb-based event, Jürgenson is effectively the championship leader starting round two of the Junior WRC.

Apart from tackling a handful of stages on a national event in Ireland last season, Max Smart will be a Tarmac rally rookie when he takes the start in Croatia after he was unable to compete on Rallye Weiz or Rally Nova Gorica in 2023. The South African finished 10th among the FIA Junior WRC drivers on Rally Sweden. 

Taylor Gill built his asphalt-driving knowledge on two FIA Rally Star Training Season events in 2023. He’s eighth in the Junior WRC standings following the Rally Sweden opener.

After posting a DNF on Rally Sweden, Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó’s clear target is to go the distance on Croatia Rally, his second event with new-for-2024 Esther Gutiérrez.

FIA Rally Star Project Leader Jérôme Roussel said: “We were very encouraged by the performances of all four FIA Rally Star drivers in Sweden, particularly how they listened to and followed the advice given to them. Croatia Rally presents another entirely different challenge, but our talented quartet continue to show how quickly and capable they are at adapting to new situations, despite the fact they are very much rookie drivers. As every Rally1 driver will tell you, Croatia Rally is a very tough and challenging event, but it represents an excellent opportunity for learning and building experience. We thank all the officials and volunteers from the Croatian Car and Karting Federation for their assistance.”

Romet Jürgenson said: “I’m looking forward to these amazing, twisty Tarmac roads in Croatia. We did a preview event in the region where the WRC is going to be and it went really well. We got to try different settings and different techniques of driving and, in the end, we won our class and were fourth overall. The training camp in Edinburgh allowed me to develop myself further psychologically, which was really good. The aim is to be in the top three in Croatia, which I hope can be possible if all goes smoothly. But it’s a difficult rally to predict because of the gravel dragged onto the road by the frontrunners. That’s part of the game and something we have to deal with.”

Taylor Gill said: “Croatia is probably going to be the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far, it’s only my third Tarmac rally so I’m still very much a baby at Tarmac rallying and this is a daunting event to go to. That doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t do well but it’s hard to say where we’ll end up. If we can get to the finish relatively unscathed and set some competitive times I’ll be happy with that. But we’ll have to build up to it because, like I said, it’s going to be extremely demanding from the word go. It will be nice if the weather stays dry because that will make things slightly less stressful but it’s all part of the challenge and the tyre choice is something else we have to factor in. Our training trip to Edinburgh gave us some fresh ideas on the physical and mental preparation which I hope can be of benefit.”

Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó said: “My thinking about this rally is for sure to be able to finish to grab some good points for the championship after Sweden where we retired. I also want to put into practice all the things I am working on. In Edinburgh I was doing a lot of physical and mental training and things to help me complete my goals and grow my relationship with my new co-driver Esther. All the things we learned have made me very comfortable and I hope everything will work well in Croatia.”

Max Smart said: “Having the ability to adapt will stand you in good stead on this rally because the conditions are always changing, the surface is changing a lot and there are cuts that will throw dirt up. The stages are all different. There is a big variety, how they flow, how wide the stages are, where they are and the elevation. This makes it exciting because it’s something so new and it’s definitely a challenge, a bit of an adventure. I’m really keen for the event, I’m excited, it looks like an awesome rally. We had a training camp with the FIA Rally Star crew in Edinburgh and that was amazing because we looked at the physical side of rallying, the fitness, nutrition, planning ahead, setting goals. It was really good to do that training heading to this event and the rest of our rally career. I’m keen to get back in the car and get out there, work with the team and Cameron again.”

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

FIA Rally Star drivers (in Croatia Rally start number order)
#50 Romet Jürgenson (24, Estonia) / Co-driver: Siim Oja (EST)
#56 Taylor Gill (20, Australia) / Co-driver: Daniel Brkic (AUS)
#58 Max Smart (21, South Africa) / Co-driver: Cameron Fair (GBR)
#65 Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó (27, Peru) / Co-driver: Esther Gutiérrez (ESP)

More information about the Croatia Rally is available here.

To know more about the FIA Rally Star programme, visit https://www.fia.com/fia-rally-star and follow @FIARallyStar on social media.