AFTER three days of tests and evaluations at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, Panikos Polykarpou of Cyprus won a major boost for his motor sport career by gaining selection to the FIA Institute’s 2015 Young Driver Excellence Academy.Polykarpou earned his place in the fully-funded 2015 Academy programme based on his overall display on the track, in the classroom and in the gymnasium during the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia qualifying event at the home of November’s F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.He now has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of previous Academy graduates who have gone on to greater things, including World Rally Championship drivers Andreas Mikkelsen, Pontus Tidemand and Craig Breen, and Formula One reserve drivers Alexander Rossi, Stoffel Vandoorne, and Robin Frijns.While Polykarpou grabbed the top prize, there were no losers in Abu Dhabi, as each of the other 12 young drivers who had been nominated by the national motor sport authorities in their own countries gained invaluable knowledge and experience to help them in their careers. “I’m very happy to win, especially as I felt a lot of tension on the first day, ” said 23-year-old Polykarpou, who was warmly received as the winner by Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, organisers of the selection event, one of six being staged worldwide on behalf of the FIA Institute.“I have learnt a lot this week, and I’m very excited to be going through to the Academy because I will be among the best young drivers in the world and it can do a lot for me in my career.” Sulayem, the FIA Vice President, said: “We were proud to have been chosen by the FIA Institute to host this event for the second year in succession. It is a great tribute to the UAE’s status in motorsport, and to the wonderful facilities here at Yas Marina Circuit.“The Academy will give Panikos a great opportunity to take his career to another level, and it’s up to him now how far he goes. At the same time, each of the other drivers have gained a great deal of valuable experience and knowhow that can help them in their careers.”On the final day of the selection event the 13 drivers were quizzed by the judging panel, consisting of the FIA Institute’s Kate Robson, ATCUAE Motorsport Director Ronan Morgan, and professional racing driver and instructor Tom Onslow-Cole.Six drivers were then chosen for a shoot-out, with Polykarpou – a finalist in Abu Dhabi last year – being joined by the UAE’s Mansour Al Helei, Kuwait’s Ali Makhseed, Lebanon’s Patrick Njeim, Petr Borodin from Kazakhstan and Shalva Tsikhelashvili of Georgia. They each set off on timed laps of the Grand Prix circuit in the brand new high performance Nissan 370Zs used throughout three days of driving tests, courtesy of Nissan Middle East.Ultimately, the choice of Polykarpou as the regional winner was based not only on the shoot-out and all-round driving skills displayed over the three days, but also on physical fitness, mental sharpness, and ability to deal with the pressures and responsibilities faced in top-level motor sport.Sulayem said: “There were no losers here, and I’m very pleased to see that Mansour Al Helei showed so much improvement on last year and gave such a good account of himself to reach the final stages this time.” Beginning in November, the next Academy provides a fully-funded training programme which develops young talent and promotes safety in motor sport.