British rising stars impress at FIA Rally Star Continental Final
Britain’s Katie Milner advanced to the Women’s Final of the FIA Rally Star global talent detection programme after sharing the spoils with Sweden’s Maja Hallen Fellenius at the Continental Final in Estering, Germany last weekend (29-31 January).
Milner was one of four representatives from the UK bound for Germany alongside Rob Wilson, George Lepley and #RallyAtHome digital challenge winner John Bebnowicz-Harris, with support provided by Katie Baldwin on behalf of Motorsport UK Academy, the governing body’s performance pathway.
As the only female to qualify through stage one, Milner faced a setback in stage two during her first timed run which resulted in a DNF. However, Milner was nominated for the shootout by the panel that included Robert Reid, Malcolm Wilson, Thierry Neuville and Pernilla Solberg – which she jointly won. The 21-year old will now head to the global women’s final in North America later in the year.
John Bebnowicz-Harris qualified via the #RallyAtHome challenge. Prior to the UK finals of Rally Star in October 2021, he had never competed in a real car, but still qualified fourth in the group during stage one, an excellent effort, and looked set to secure a place until another competitor beat his time in the round’s final moments.
Wildcard entry George Lepley finished top of the group in stage one by setting the fastest time out of 10 drivers. During stage two he experienced technical issues which cost him time and ultimately meant he missed out on qualification into stage three finals.
Wilson, who won the UK Final at Motorsport UK’s Bicester headquarters in October last year, progressed through to the final stage after placing in the top three fastest times in both Stages 1 & 2. His meticulous attention-to-detail and raw pace shone through, especially impressive given his lack of rear-wheel drive experience.
All four competitors faced incredibly challenging conditions, including high winds and fast-changing weather. Each had to adapt to an environment where damage to the cross cars amidst the weather conditions meant the stakes were high, yet they put in exceptionally competitive performances under these conditions with a potential place in the Junior World Rally Championship on the line.
Katie Milner said:
“I’m over the moon to have qualified for the Women’s Final in North America, it’s been a very challenging weekend with a lot of pressure, but I’ve enjoyed every minute. It was a great event run by the FIA and gave me a new challenge with the change between gravel and tarmac. I’m looking forward to getting my head into gear and training now for August”
Katie Baldwin, Competitions Pathway Manager, Motorsport UK, said:
“The FIA Rally Star event has been a fantastic opportunity for our drivers to compete side by side with Europe’s top future talent. It has been the ultimate test of adaptability, character and performance under pressure.
“I’d like to congratulate all of our four finalists on their professionalism and outstanding effort – they represented the UK impeccably across the whole weekend and should be very proud of their achievements. I’d like to thank our Motorsport UK Academy Coach, James Wozencroft, who has been working with the drivers behind the scenes to support their training and preparation and has made such a positive impact on their performances this weekend.
“We’re looking forward to supporting Katie through the next phase of preparation ahead of the global women’s final.”
Robert Wilson said:
“It has been a fantastic opportunity to make the final and be selected in the final 12 from Europe. I have so many learnings from this weekend that I will implement into my rallying. It’s been such a privilege to compete and make it this far and hopefully this opens doors in other rallying competitions.”
George Lepley said:
“The FIA rally star European final has been fantastic; I won my group in stage one and made it through to stage two. I was absolutely gutted that a technical issue meant I didn’t qualify for the final 12 by 0.7 seconds and was unable to get a re-run. But I’m so pleased for the others from the UK team, and I can certainly take a lot from the experience with driving under pressure during a once in a lifetime opportunity. I hope there is something similar in the future.”
John Bebnowicz-Harris said:
“It’s been an eye-opening experience to be honest, firstly because of the improvements I have made on this journey and the confidence I have gained. Secondly, it has been incredible to see the hard work and dedication that goes into hosting this kind of event, it makes me feel happy that the FIA have so much faith in this concept!
“Obviously as a driver I always think about what I could have done more, but I feel proud that I, a virtual esports driver with hardly any driving experience, made some expert drivers work hard for it!
“Crosskarts seem to defy the rules of physics, and I’m all for it!“