Jon Williams has been confirmed as the first beneficiary of the Pirelli Star Driver programme, having been selected from the FIA African Rally Championship.
The 25-year-old, who started his rallying career five years ago, has been competing in the African Rally Championship with a VW Polo S2000 this season. He will now take in six rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship in 2009, driving either a Group N or Super 2000 car prepared and run by a team contracted by the FIA.
In total five drivers will compete at the pinnacle of the sport next year thanks to the Pirelli scheme, with the others coming from the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and European championships.
"This is the fulfilment of a dream and a magnificent opportunity for me to show what I can achieve at World Rally Championship level," said Williams, who will now get to take in the WRC events in Portugal, Italy, Greece, Finland, Spain and Great Britain.
"I'm driving in the African Rally Championship for the first time this year and I certainly wasn't accustomed to driving on roads that are so tricky – so every event was doubly difficult for me. Consequently I had to adapt my driving style quite consciously, as in those situations you have to drive first and foremost with your head.
"I've made a lot of sacrifices to achieve my goals and I'd like to thank my parents for all the help that they have given me. Over the years I think I've learnt a lot and matured as a person as well as a driver, even though it hasn't been an easy process.
"In the future I hope that my performances will make me stand out and that I will deserve a permanent seat with one of the teams. This is my key objective, and I'm going to be doing everything possible to make it a reality."
Williams, who was co-driven by his father on South African rallies, will be navigated by Pierre Arries - his regular partner on the African Rally Championship - for their 2009 WRC programme.
"In Williams, we have found the first young talent to launch onto the world stage through the Pirelli Star Driver scheme," added Peter Tyson, Pirelli's senior marketing director.
"Allowing young drivers to emerge from their domestic championships and supporting their careers is a source of great satisfaction for us. This investment in the future of the sport is what makes the Pirelli Star Driver scheme so important and relevant today."