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While Miko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb battle out the 2009 World Rally Championship at next month’s Repco Rally Australia, the prize of a lifetime awaits one of six young would-be contenders for a future crown.

The six, including four Australians, are Asia Pacific finalists in the Pirelli Star Driver program and will contest a winner-take-all shootout on day one of the 3-6 September Rally Australia in the New South Wales Northern Rivers.

The winner will take his place beside four other drivers aged under 28 in an exclusive WRC driver development program next year supported by the championship’s official tyre supplier, Pirelli.

In collaboration with the world motorsport governing body the FIA, the Italian manufacturer aims to kick-start the drivers’ international careers.

It’s the ultimate zero-to-hero boost for young rally hopefuls with talent but limited funds to make the leap from relative obscurity to the world stage in a single step.

The selection of drivers takes place across four continents and 30 countries, with winners whittled down to just five from Africa, the Asia Pacific, Middle East and two from Europe.

Each scores a fully-supported drive in a turbocharged, four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X Group N car, tackling six rounds of the 2010 Production World Rally Championship.

The prize also involves a full physical training and nutrition program, media training and career management at Edinburgh University in the UK. While no official value is put on the package, it’s estimated to be worth around $1 million – and priceless to the young stars it assists.

The shootout at Repco Rally Australia follows qualification rounds at the New Caledonia Rally, Rally Queensland, Rally of Whangarei in New Zealand, Rally Malaysia and Rally Hokkaido, Japan.

The Australian contingent comprises the qualifiers from Rally Queensland, Brendan Reeves and Eli Evans, and wildcard entrants Nathan Quinn and Glen Raymond.

As well as each other, they’ll be up against Haydon Paddon from New Zealand and Chaodong Lui from China.

All will contest the Thursday night and Friday day stages of Repco Rally Australia, but the winner won’t be chosen on stage results alone.

(Raymond and Evans will end their Rally Australia at this point, but the others will contest the fully event.)

Each also will be assessed by an expert international judging panel, which will review other factors such as their approach to the sport, media ability and personal presentation.

Pirelli further enhances the support of the young drivers in the Pirelli Star Driver program with a $6000 budget for the three overseas entries in the shootout. The Australian qualifiers receive $1700 and the two wild-carded Aussies must get to the rally at their own expense.

Additionally, all receive a free entry.

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