Sami Pajari, who was chosen by the Finnish motorsport federation (AKK) as the country’s Future Star this year, is ready to take on the challenge of Rally Finland, having successfully completed the recce today.
Each year, a new Flying Finn Future Star is elected for a prize drive on Rally Finland: the fastest and most challenging event on the World Rally Championship. This ongoing programme underlines AKK’s commitment to providing the sport with the next generation of Finnish talent, offering a valuable opportunity for up-and-coming youngsters to make their names.
This year, Pajari will drive a turbocharged Ford Fiesta R2T as part of the Junior WRC: the one-make series that has produced legendary champions in the past, such as Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier. As a result, Pajari will be able to directly compare his stage times to those of established drivers who have been competing on the junior series throughout the whole season.
Getting to know the stages
Pajari, aged 17, will be co-driven by Antti Haapala on Rally Finland, which gets underway tomorrow evening fromJyväskylä. Ahead of them lie 23 gravel stages and 307.58 competitive kilometres of action against 13 other crews in the Junior WRC, part of the 65-strong final entry list on Rally Finland.
Pajari got a chance to inspect the stages over the last two days during the recce, during which the crews prepare the all-important pace notes that will be guiding them through the stages.
“The roads seem quite nice and very fast,” he said on Wednesday evening. “As usual, it’s mostly fast sections on this rally, but there are also some slower and more technical parts. It’s going to be important to take a lot of care in those places, as I think they are going to get quite rough and tricky – especially on the second run through the stages.”
Making a plan
When it comes to choosing a favourite stage, Pajari isn’t quite sure. “Actually, they are all good, so it's hard for me to pick a favourite!” he says. “You have places like Päïjälä and Kakaristo that are big classics and historic names, but I like them all. Although I’ve never driven on Rally Finland before, I’ve come as a spectator nine times, so I have an idea about what to expect. The nature of the roads is quite similar to what I have been used to on the Finnish championship, so hopefully not too many surprises.”
However, it’s always good to have a plan when it comes to tackling the many demands of Rally Finland. And Pajari has some clear objectives, having tested his new car for around 60 kilometres last week. He’s currently driving another Ford Fiesta R2 on the Finnish championship, but the Fiesta he will use this weekend is of a slightly different specification, with more power.
“Although we have some experience of these types of road in Finland, the other guys in the Junior WRC have more experience of the cars and the championship,” he points out. “There’s 14 of us in total, plus some other R2 cars outside the Junior WRC. Most of all, I want to finish the rally: that’s the big goal. But I also want to show my pace from time to time, because this is the biggest opportunity of my career so far and I have to take it. If we could finish in the top five of the class, that would be a good result. If we can finish in the top three, that would be just amazing. I’m feeling really excited, but I know that I have to control my excitement.”
Reaching for the stars
Becoming a rally driver has always been Sami Pajari’s dream. His father competed on rallies for fun, and Pajari first started driving aged 14. Last year, he won the class for drivers aged under 18 in Finland, with a standard-specification 1600cc Opel Astra, and this year he steps up to the SM3 class on the Finnish Rally Championship in a Ford Fiesta R2, where he is currently second. Now he gets his long-awaited chance on the world stage.
Away from rallies, he is studying to become an electrician, in his home town of Lahti. But that’s plan B, as what Pajari really wants is to become a professional rally driver. “Definitely, because driving a rally car is a lot more fun than putting in wires!” he jokes.
This weekend is an important step towards achieving that goal. He may seem relaxed now, but he knows that it won’t last. “When I’m on the start line in Harju tomorrow, I think I’ll be feeling the pressure then. But at the same time, I can’t wait.”
Photo: Aaro Nygård/AKK