Finnish rally drivers are renowned all over the world for their flat-out speed and unwavering commitment. Sami Pajari, who was chosen as the AKK Flying Finn Future Star this year, proved that he had both.
The 17-year-old is guesting as part of the Junior WRC on his home event of Rally Finland, and he finished Friday night’s opening day of action sixth in the class, despite going up against drivers who had much more experience. On his first full day in the turbocharged Ford Fiesta R2T, Pajari already set a fastest stage time and showed his potential to become one of the next up-and-coming stars of rallying.
On Saturday, he wanted to build on his performance while keeping a margin of safety to ensure he finished the event. On the second stage of the day, Päïjälä, which was also the longest of the rally at 22 kilometres, he set another fastest stage time: 10 seconds clear of the next-fastest competitor.
This competitive time helped to move him and co-driver Antti Haapala up to fourth in the category, less than two seconds off the provisional podium, and just outside the top 20 overall.
“Saturday was a more difficult and tricky day due to the tight backroads,” he explained at the Paviljonki service, halfway through the day. “I enjoyed it a lot and the support has been really great. Last week, I thought I could be in the top five but I did not expect these guys to be so fast, which is really exciting. Our second stage win was really great: it was a little trickier but very exciting and I am looking forward to the second loop.”
Sadly for Pajari, that didn’t last too long. Shortly after the start of the Pihlajakoski stage in the afternoon, he lost control of the car under braking for a right-hand corner and rolled into retirement from fourth in the Junior WRC standings.
“The most frustrating thing is that I’m not even sure what happened: it was very strange,” said Pajari. “We weren’t pushing especially hard and we weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary: suddenly I just felt the car getting away from me and the next thing I knew we were rolling. I have no explanation, and of course I would like to know, but I guess this is part of the game. The way it ended is obviously disappointing, but I need to try and focus on the positives and above all I would like to thank everyone who made this rally possible for me. I really appreciate this and definitely I have learned so much. To win two stages was a big surprise for me and I am very happy about that.”
One thing is for sure: Pajari will be back in order to focus on building up more experience of these rapid and specialised Finnish gravel roads at world level. And for the rest of this year, he will concentrate on winning his class in the national championship. He’s already second overall, so victory is within sight.
Phil Short, an experienced international co-driver who is the Sporting Supervisor for the Junior WRC, commented: “We were very impressed with what Sami accomplished on his first outing in the championship. To set two fastest stage times, and establish the pace he did, was a great achievement. Above all, we were very pleased with his mature approach to the rally. He built up to speed gradually and made progress step by step. We definitely saw a lot of potential.”
Photo: Toni Ollikainen/AKK