Romet Jürgenson finishes second in FIA Junior WRC Championship debut
• Taylor Gill leads record-breaking Junior WRC field during early stages
• Max Smart scores world championship point on fifth ever rally
• Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó shows top 10 potential in challenging conditions

The FIA Rally Star drivers contesting the 2024 FIA Junior WRC Championship underlined their potential by delivering performances that belied their limited experience on the Rally Sweden season opener, which finished in the city of Umeå yesterday (February 18).

Romet Jürgenson from Estonia, Australia’s Taylor Gill, South African Max Smart, and Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó from Peru were contesting the high-speed and highly challenging winter rally for the first time following their graduation from the FIA Rally Star Training Season in 2023.

Jürgenson finished runner-up, Gill led during Friday’s opening leg before finishing eighth, Smart bagged a Junior WRC point in 10th, while Caparó was comfortably inside the top 10 when he was forced to retire with car damage following a trip into a snowbank on leg two.

Their individual performances on a hugely specialised and demanding event were not only a testament to their natural talent, particularly in the heavy snow experienced on Friday, but a firm demonstration of how meticulous preparation can pay dividends.

In addition to the work of M-Sport Poland, which prepares and maintains their Ford Fiesta Rally3s, and tyre supplier Pirelli, the FIA Rally Star drivers attended the John Haugland Winter Rally School in the build-up to Rally Sweden, where former factory WRC driver Haugland provided expert tuition and guidance.

As a further measure of just how well the FIA Rally Star drivers performed, this year’s Junior WRC Championship has attracted a record 19-strong entry featuring drivers with even more experience than Caparó, Gill, Jürgenson, and Smart.

The FIA Road Sport Department, which conceived and manages the FIA Rally Star programme, received extensive assistance from FIA Member Club, Svenska Bilsportförbundet, and the Rally Sweden organising team, which, in turn, was supported by more than 4000 volunteers.

FIA Rally Star project leader Jérôme Roussel said: “To have three of our four drivers in the points was a great start and something we can all be proud of. We didn’t underestimate the challenge of such an event, and that’s why we did a specific preparation for this rally, going to SnowRallyRings and the John Haugland Winter Rally School to prepare our drivers for the task. At the end, we can be over the moon with Romet’s second position. From the start, he was in the mix for the podium spots, hitting his target of finishing in the top five and being in a position to fight for the podium. He has overdelivered, but it’s not a surprise because we know how big his potential is, although it’s always a joy to remember that FIA Rally Star spotted such a talent.

“It was also a very good rally from Taylor, especially on Friday when he was leading his first WRC event. It was difficult for him after he lost 10 minutes having to change two tyres on the same stage, but he was able to get back up to speed and score points. With such a big number of entrants, every point has a big value, so congratulations to him.

“Max had never driven a rally car one year ago so to get a Junior WRC point is very much deserved. He was the most improved driver between the two runs of the stages, which shows his commitment and his capacity to learn, with some of the fastest split times.

“Abito unfortunately didn’t finish the rally after an accident with a snowbank. It damaged his car’s cooling system, and we decided to retire the car on Saturday night because he had nothing to win by restarting. But he showed he was able to be in a zone where he could set good times and improve regularly. I was also happy because he was starting his partnership with his new co-driver, Esther Gutiérrez, which worked very well. Indeed, all four co-drivers were a massive part of the performance in Sweden.

“Finally, I would like to thank Svenska Bilsportförbundet, the Rally Sweden organisers, Pirelli, and M-Sport Poland, whose mechanics worked very hard in challenging conditions. To have such good reliability is a performance in itself.”

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

35 Romet Jürgenson (24, Estonia) Co-driver: Siim Oja (EST)

Began his FIA Junior WRC career with a fine second place. Apart from SS3, where a bonnet pin came lose and his visibility was compromised, Jürgenson was only outside the top five Junior WRC times on two occasions. He also recorded a hat-trick of stage bests.

Romet Jürgenson said: “The aim coming here was to be in the top five so coming second exceeded the expectations. We also got some stage wins during the weekend to show we have the speed, even if the consistency is maybe not there just yet. In fact we all showed we are true contenders and I want to thank the FIA and all the people who made this programme come to life. I still need to improve to be 100 per cent confident on snow. But I am really happy to have solid points at the start of the season. I’m in a great position now because I know a bit more about what to expect from the next events. I did the Croatia Rally last year so I believe I can be competitive there as well.”

55 Taylor Gill (20, Australia) Co-driver: Daniel Brkic (AUS)

Took the Junior WRC lead on only his second stage in the World Rally Championship and was in podium positions when he was forced to change two tyres on the penultimate stage of leg one. But he didn’t give up and finished a strong eighth in class.

Taylor Gill said: “It was an up-and-down weekend, but there were lots of positives to take, and I’m super-happy to have got to the end with the snow shovels still in the car where they started the rally! Leading the rally on Friday morning was a huge highlight, and the pace was right there to be fighting at the front. We dropped off a bit on Saturday, but I felt the level was starting to come back up on the final morning. It will be challenging to sustain that pace for the rest of the year because the events coming up are so different, but it’s all about building on what we achieved in Sweden now. When you realise how long these events are, it’s a really good achievement to be there at the end.”

61 Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó (26, Peru) Co-driver: Esther Gutiérrez (ESP)

Like Gill and Max Smart, Caparó entered unchartered territory by contesting his first snow rally. Nevertheless, he ran as high as sixth and was in the top 10 when he went off into a snowbank and was forced to retire with damage to his car’s cooling system.

Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó said: “I feel amazing about this performance because we were doing very well for our first time in the world championship and our first time on snow. I was trying to figure out how a long rally like this works, trying to take care of the tyres, trying to feel the grip and being in the correct mode for the rally with my new co-driver Esther. Not finishing the rally is disappointing because my goal in life is always to finish everything I start, but I did a lot of learning, and I know a lot of things I can improve on next time. We had some good split times, which is very important because there are so many good drivers in Junior WRC. I’m staying positive, and I’ve already started my preparation for the Croatia Rally, because there is a lot of work to do.”

62 Max Smart (21, South Africa) Co-driver: Cameron Fair (GBR)

He had never seen snow, let alone driven on it when he started his Rally Sweden preparations. After being stuck in a snowbank on the penultimate stage of leg one, Smart responded by claiming the final Junior WRC point and almost winning his class on the Wolf Power Stage.

Max Smart said: “Even with the small mistakes we made, the motivation didn’t drop, and to make the improvements and do the stage times we did at the end was amazing with such little experience. We were building on the skill and the talent that we have, and I’m all in on this as the opportunity I have from the FIA is everything to me. I had to pinch myself a few times because it’s so incredible to be a part of this. To drive on snow, especially at night, I just loved it. Everything was so foreign to me at the start, and I was actually struggling to find the feeling. But the feeling was coming throughout the rally, and I was really enjoying it. Pushing for the stage win on the Power Stage and coming so close proves we can do it and it’s nice to be able to take that confidence to Croatia.”

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?

Croatia’s round of FIA Junior WRC Championship from April 18–21 is no ordinary Tarmac event, with stage surfaces varying between broken concrete and pure asphalt or a mixture of both. There’s also plenty of variation in road width, and weather undulation is another key factor. Grip levels are often at a premium.

Croatia is going to be a massive challenge for Max because not only does he have limited rally experience, he has practically no experience at all of rallying on tarmac. Max is hoping to compete in one or two European tarmac rallies before his return to the World Rally Championship in April, but this is entirely dependent on his ability to raise the funds required to hire a car and support his team to be able to do so. Anyone who is able to assist in any way is invited to make contact with Max via Jaco Deysel at MSA (

For more information, visit and follow @FIARallyStar on social media.

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