The Future Star
Finland is a country famous for its successful rally drivers. It’s been like that for a long time, still is and hopefully will be well into the future. AKK Sports Oy, organizer of Neste Rally Finland, began a project in 2014 to find promising new drivers with the intention to speed up their progress towards an international career and world level status.
The carrot dangled by the project called "the Future Star" is free entry to Neste Rally Finland. The chosen driver gets a chance to show his stuff in the spotlight, as he is handed a deal comprising a rally car, full service, tyres, fuel, entry fee, pre-rally testing, coaching and consultation regarding dealing with PR and media relations.
Springboard - Finnish Rally Championship
Judgement on who is viewed as the best young driver is based on success in the Finnish Rally Championship. AKK Sports acts as the series’ promoter with local clubs organizing individual events. Participants in "The Future Star" contest must compete in class SM3 for cars with R1 or R2 FIA homologation.
This increasingly popular class is especially favoured by young drivers, because it keeps the costs at reasonable level. It also serves as a good springboard to an R5 or Super2000 car. Citroën, Ford, Peugeot and Skoda are represented in the class.
Selection process of 2017
All five 2017 Finnish Championship rounds taking place before Neste Rally Finland will count towards graduation to a special selection event. Candidates must compete in SM3 class and be born on 1.1.1992 or later. The drivers holding top five positions in the points table after those four rallies will be invited to The Sports Institute of Finland to participate in this selection event.
An analysis of each candidate’s driving will be carried out based on his performances during the season. Furthermore, physical and psychological qualities will be tested, as well as prowess in dealing with PR and media.
2017 Winner Emil Lindholm
Up-and-coming rally star Emil Lindholm has been chosen as Future Rally Star of Finland by AKK Sports, the promotional arm of Finland’s motorsport federation, which also organises the country’s famous round of the World Rally Championship.
This prestigious award comes with a unique prize: a fully-funded drive on Neste Rally Finland in the Junior World Rally Championship from July 27-30, at the wheel of a turbocharged Ford Fiesta R2 against some of the most promising stars in the sport.
The 5 finalists, who all had to be under the age of 25, earned their spot in the shootout for the drive based on their performances during the first half of this year’s Finnish Rally Championship, as they had to be in the top five of the SM3 class to be eligible.
A final selection took place at Vierumaki in southern Finland over two days this week. This crucial assessment tested reconnaissance and pacenote-making skills, mental strength, physical fitness, and media awareness.
Lindholm comes from a well-known motorsport background as his father is Sebastian Lindholm: a former Peugeot factory driver and the cousin of two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm. Not only that, but the 20-year-old Finn is also an extremely adaptable all-rounder, taking part not only in rallying but racing as well, with the ADAC GT Masters Series in Germany this year. In the past, he’s also raced in the Porsche GT3 Cup Trophy Finland, as well as the Audi Sport TT Cup.
His rally experience includes outings on the Finnish Rally Championship, as well as on the ADAC Opel Rallye Cup in Germany. On Neste Rally Finland next month, Lindholm will go back to his roots – as the first stage rally he competed on was back in 2013 with a Ford Fiesta ST. His very beginnings in the sport came just one year earlier, through rallysprints in Finland: an established route for youngsters to get involved in motorsport.
“I’m very happy and very surprised as I certainly wouldn’t have said that I was favourite to win the prize this year,” said Lindholm. “It’s a huge honour, because if you look at the other people who have won the Future Rally Star prize before me, they have gone on to achieve some great things. I really hope that I can follow in their footsteps. I’ve been driving for as long as I can remember, but this is definitely the biggest recognition I have ever had.”
Previous winners of the award include current WRC2 star Teemu Suninen (2014) who will make his WRC debut in Poland, Junior European Rally Championship frontrunner Jari Huttunen (2015) and last year’s winner Juuso Nordgren.
As well as competing on Neste Rally Finland as his prize, Lindholm has also decided to compete on the Junior World Rally Championship in Rally Poland first: the next round of the series, based on fast gravel roads around Mikolajki in the north east of Poland from June 29-July 2.
“I’m hoping that this will be a good test experience for Rally Finland,” added Lindholm, who is co-driven by Tomi Tuominen: a former factory World Rally Championship navigator, who has sat alongside Toni Gardemeister in the past as well as being an accomplished TV presenter.
“For Finland, my only goal is to finish: I don’t want to make any more predictions than that,” concluded Lindholm. “But it would be great if I was able to set some fastest stage times as well. I know this is an amazing opportunity, so I must make the most of it. The realisation is just beginning to sink in now!”
The jury to select the Future Rally Star of Finland consisted of Jani Backman (Promoter of Neste Rally Finland), Phil Short (FIA JWRC Sporting Supervisor), Kai Tarkiainen (Clerk of the Course, Neste Rally Finland), Jari Ketomaa (Rally Coach), Tero Puustinen (Physical Trainer), Mikko Markkula (Reconnaissance Supervisor) and Matti Jaakkola (Sport Psychologist).
Neste Rally Finland promoter Jani Backman, who has been involved in the scheme since it was inaugurated in 2014, commented: “We selected Lindholm based on his speed and the skills he showed in the Finnish Rally Championship. On top of that, he was also the most complete package, without any major weaknesses.”
The Future Star – how, where, when?
You can follow the project throughout the season through the various information channels of Finnish Rally Championship and Neste Rally Finland.
Names of the finalists will be published after the Finnish Rally Championship round in June and the decisive selection event takes place before the end of the month.
When the winner has been announced his path towards the prize drive in Neste Rally Finland will be followed on the event’s website and on its social media forums. A pre-event TV-programme of the project will be screened at a date to be confirmed.