New Zealander Mark Tapper has been confirmed as the Pirelli Star Driver winner for the Asia-Pacific region.
The 27-year-old joins Jon Williams, who was selected from the FIA African Rally Championship, as the second of five young drivers to benefit from the initiative, which is aimed at investing in the growth of the sport and, in particular, helping young drivers reach World Championship level.
Tapper will now take in six rounds of the WRC in 2009, driving either a Group N or Super 2000 car prepared and run by a team contracted by the FIA.
The Asia-Pacific region had two qualifying rounds, the Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand back in June and the Malaysian Rally last weekend, where there were a total of ten young drivers contesting the Asian final.
After a wet and treacherously slippery two days of competition, Tapper emerged with the most Pirelli Star Driver points and he and co-driver Jeff Cress will now represent their region next year.
“Rallying is what I have wanted to do ever since I first knew about cars, so winning the Pirelli Star Driver scheme means the world to me,” he said. “The biggest thing is for me to be able to repay all the people who had faith and belief in my ability, especially my parents, and I'm sure we'll do them and New Zealand proud when we compete in the WRC next year.
“I need to go to the European events to learn and finish all of them, but I intend to be competitive too.
“Pirelli has given us this opportunity and without that I would never have been able to achieve this.
“New Zealand is a small country and, other than Possum Bourne, no one has had the opportunity to compete in a decent campaign in the WRC. I saw the opportunity and took it; the result still needs to sink in.”
The Pirelli Star Driver scheme is a worldwide search for five young rally drivers from the 2008 and 2009 FIA Regional Championships, with one driver emerging from each of the Asia-Pacific, Africa and Middle East regions. Two competitors will be selected from the European region.
In 2009, the Pirelli Star Drivers will compete in the rallies in Portugal, Italy, Greece, Finland, Spain and Britain.