Finland's Jarkko Nikara and the Czech Republic's Martin Semerad have been named as the two Pirelli Star Driver winners following the Pan-European Shoot-out this weekend in Freistadt, Austria.

The competition took place over two-days and the 18 young hopefuls were assess both on and off the stages by the panel of experts, which included former World Rally Championship stars, Walter Rohrl and Michele Mouton, as well as Autosport and Rallycourse editor, David Evans.

However, in the end there could only be two winners and it was Nikara and Semerad that came out top. They will now receive a fully-paid drive on six rounds of the 2009 World Rally Championship in a Group N or Super 2000 car supplied and serviced under an FIA contract with a specialist preparation company.

"If I say that I'm really happy to win it might sound stupid," said Nikara, "but I was so disappointed after my interviews with the judging panel yesterday that I was convinced I had blown about 80 per cent of my chances.

"Once I got into the car I gave it 110 per cent, concentrating as hard as I could on my driving, and I think that was the best approach. I'm extremely proud to think that next year I will have the chance to compete alongside some other well-known young Finns on the World Rally Championship.

"I'm massively grateful to the FIA and Pirelli for having organised an extraordinary event like the 'Pirelli Star Driver' programme. It gives me an exciting and unforgettable chance to live out my dream and drive on the World Rally Championship."

Semerad, who has just turned 18, was also over the moon: "This is more than a dream for me," he added. "Two weeks ago I had no clue about what was going to happen. I was just thinking about my studies and preparing for a rallysprint event happening in the Czech Republic soon. Now I am a winner of the 'Pirelli Star Driver' contest and that is obviously a huge honour for me.

"I don't think it has fully sunk in yet to be honest. I've only ever contested asphalt rallies before, but when I heard that I was going to compete on this event, I took part in a gravel rally in Germany - only last week.

"To be amongst the people chosen for the 'Pirelli Star Driver' programme is a simply fantastic opportunity, for which I would like to thank the FIA and Pirelli very much. I'm also very pleased to be competing next year alongside my very talented compatriot, Martin Prokop."

Pirelli motorsport marketing director, Peter Tyson meanwhile branded the Shoot-out a big success - and with Jon Williams and Mark Tapper already confirmed prior to this weekend as the African and Asia-Pacific Pirelli Star Driver winners - only one of the five slots remains to be filled for '09, namely with a driver from the Middle East.

"The event that took place in Freistadt was a genuine success in every way, and proof of the effectiveness of this method to find and support up-and-coming young rally stars," Tyson summed-up.

"All the drivers were extremely enthusiastic about the Pirelli Star Driver scheme, and I'm convinced that this is the way forward to uncover young talent - with of course one or two refinements in future, as is always the case after starting any brand new programme.

"Pirelli is extremely proud to have supported this initiative, which has met with a lot of praise from the national sporting federations, teams, drivers, and the media."

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