Last But Not Least – FIA Rally Star Drivers’ Series Vol.8 Annia Cilloniz

FIA Rally Star special series

In 2021, the FIA launched Rally Star, a global talent detection program aiming to find the next Rally champions. The program starts with local selections, then six Continental Finals will each contribute one driver to join the FIA Rally Star team. Besides the winning driver from each continent, the six best female drivers compete in an additional Women’s Final for one to come out on top and join the FIA Rally Star team.

On May 3, 2023, Annia Cilloniz from Peru became the last woman to go through from the Continental Finals into the Women’s Final. Two days later, she was crowned the champion in the Women’s Final and became the last member of the FIA Rally Star team for the Training Season. The Training Season is currently underway with a training camp from May 21 to June 1, and six rallies between June and November. The best four drivers on the FIA Rally Star team will earn a ride in the FIA Junior WRC Championship in 2024.

We interviewed Annia when she was at Rally de Portugal the week after she secured this epic opportunity, let’s see what she has to say about this experience and the Training Season!

Photos © Annia Cilloniz

As the last driver to make the Women’s Final and the last driver to join the FIA Rally Star team, Annia Cilloniz is certainly not the least. Coming from a motorsport family in Peru, Annia was already familiar with the sport from a very early age. “My dad and my grandfathers are all rally drivers. When I was two or three years old, I started asking my dad for a motorcycle. My dad was like ‘but you’re a girl’. When I finally got my motorcycle. It just started to be this passion I have – riding together with my dad. We would go to the desert and ride through the dunes.”

Even though Annia started with motorcycling, it didn’t become her motorsport passion until later. Like her father and grandfathers, rallying is her true calling. “When I got older I started to go to my dad’s races. I really liked it, and I said I want to be a rally driver! In the past two years in the pandemic, I’ve also started with motocross. I really enjoyed it! But I also crashed a lot and broke a lot of bones. So I stopped it to focus on rallying.” 

It’s been a really long process before I got here. But I’m glad I finally made it. I can’t believe it!

Before the big opportunity the FIA Rally Star brought about, Annia was racing anything she could get her hands on. In that process, she managed to make herself Queen of the Drift. “I took advantage of every opportunity that came to me. That’s how I get into drifting. At first, I didn’t even know what it was. I grew up in a small town, and everything I knew about was in the dirt or on the tarmac. One team approached me. They said they had a car and asked me if I wanted to participate in a drift with them. I had never been in a drifting car, and I didn’t know what I had to do. But I said ‘sure’ and I went for it. I was out on the road 12 times, trying to drift. It made me feel great! I felt like I really wanted to do it.” 

I wanted to be a driver and I wanted to be in that world.

Having started with drifting, Annia wanted to also get better. Instead of only being a driver, she took on the role of a mechanic as well. “I don’t want to just do it. I want to do it well. I started working in a workshop as a mechanic. I’m still going into the workshop. It’s been almost four years now. In the workshop, I built a car that we raced in drifting in the first year. When I first started, I didn’t know anything about mechanics. Now if there is a small issue with my car, I can disassemble it and put it back to work.”

I love the mechanical part of racing. I fell in love with it once I started doing it. It’s not like I can take care of everything, but I can manage a lot.

Being the Queen of the Drift didn’t stop other people from questioning her. But Annia found a way to pull through. “I had a lot of difficult moments with men. I’ve always been very quiet. But sometimes they just couldn’t believe that a girl could beat them or they simply didn’t like that. They tried to put me down. They said I won because my car was faster. The first few time, it made me upset. But then I told myself to ignore them. I’ll just beat them more times.”

The FIA Rally Star is the first real opportunity that presented itself in front of Annia, and she did prepare herself well for it. “I drove in a championship in Peru, and I also did a lot of mental preparation so that I can always stay calm. I think it’s very important that you don’t go crazy inside the car. Physically, I trained on the mountain bikes a lot.”

While Annia was preparing for the American Final, the dates and venue for the American Final kept changing. About half a year after its originally planned date, the American Final finally took place, in Europe. It was worth the wait though. “I applied to a similar program in Chile back in 2020. But it was cancelled because of the pandemic. I was really worried that the same thing would happen with Rally Star when they kept telling us about new places and new times. When I finally got the email saying we are all going to Italy and our tickets would be paid for, I really couldn’t believe it. It was gonna be my first international competition! In Italy!”

The American Final carried on for three days with three stages of competition. Then on the day right afterward, came the Women’s Final. According to Annia, the four days felt like four months. “It was really exhausting. Every day we were going through a lot of assessments and processes. Once you achieve the next stage, you have to restart and continue climbing. I’m very calm in the selection though. I’m conscious of what I need to do. My disadvantage was that I haven’t tried the cross-kart before. Some other drivers had more experiences with it.” 

I was more nervous in the American Final because I wanted to beat all the guys. In the Women’s Final, I was just with other women and it felt different.

After the Women’s Final, Annia took a few days off to travel in Italy. Then she went to Rally de Portugal to dive into the WRC world for the first time. At the same time, the prelude for the Training Season already began. “We are having webinars with the technicians and the team. They are preparing us for what’s coming in the training camp and the rallies. During the training camp, we will be testing the car. It would be nice to work with the technicians to prepare the car and to try it. They will also teach us a lot of about nutrition, hydration, and how to perform in motorsport. It’ll be a holistic program.”

With this first big opportunity, the door to high level rallying is finally open to Annia. It is finally time for her to 100% focus on racing. “Before Rally Star, Yes I was racing. But I was doing everything else for racing as well. I needed to race the money, and I wasn’t really focusing only on racing. It was my passion, but with so much going on, I felt like I wasn’t giving my best. Now for the first time, I have this big opportunity to get to the world level. I would really have to train hard and apply everything. I can now just focus on racing and prove that I’m the best.”

On May 21, Annia started in training camp with her co-driver Álvaro Rivera who also came through the Rally Star program. We wish them all the best of luck in the Training Season. Hope we will see them in the FIA Junior WRC Championship in 2024!


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