Introduced as a replacement for the Junior World Rally Championship, the WRC Academy pitches aspiring world champions against one another in identical Ford Fiesta R2s prepared by the British M-Sport organisation and using Pirelli control tyres. Training sessions and seminars are also included in the package to give drivers vital skills as they progress their careers.
One driver who has shone brighter than most is Egon Kaur, the winner of both rounds held so far in Portugal and Italy and the clear leader of the FIA WRC Academy Cup heading to round three, Neste Oil Rally Finland, later this month.
But while Kaur might have gained the early initiative in his quest for the 500,000 Euros career-progression scholarship, which will be handed out to the eventual title winner following the Wales Rally GB finale in November, the 23-year-old has also experienced his share of drama.
After going off the road on round two and dropping more than four minutes, Kaur feared his challenge was over. But as Sardinia’s demanding gravel roads took their toll on his rivals, Kaur was able to stage an epic fight back to win.
One rival to come unstuck in Sardinia was Craig Breen. Despite leading both rounds and recording a total of nine fastest stage times, the Irishman is a distant eighth in the title chase, 45 points adrift of Kaur. Along with the Estonian, Breen is one of six competitors whose campaign is being bankrolled by Pirelli and the FIA through the Pirelli Star Driver scheme.
Breen’s meagre points’ total is the result of a crash in Portugal and a mechanical failure in Sardinia. Although he was able to restart the Italian round under SupeRally regulations and finish eighth overall, he could have been higher up the order had his car not suffered a rear hub failure on the final stage.
Christian Riedemann, third on the opening round, was another driver to hit trouble in Sardinia. The leader after day one, Riedemann was forced to retire with driveshaft failure at the start of day two. Alastair Fisher, who led in Portugal only to go off the road in the closing stages and drop to fifth, was also left frustrated in Sardinia when a broken oil pipe caused his early exit.
Like Fisher, Miguel Baldoni and Brendan Reeves have stepped back from four-wheel-drive machinery to take part in the Academy. The move has paid off with Argentina Baldoni second in the classification and Australian Reeves third.
Victor Henriksson, currently fourth in the table, began his bid with second place in Portugal but was another driver to retire in Sardinia, a broken sump, caused by a heavy impact on a rock, to blame for the Swede’s failure to finish.
Pirelli Star Drivers Fredrik Ahlin and Andrea Crugnola hold fifth and sixth in the overall points respectively and are expected to make further progress during the season, as will fellow Star Drivers Molly Taylor and Jan Cerny, who briefly led in Sardinia before broken suspension dropped him out of contention.