A total of 65 competitors started Rally Finland tonight, but few of them were looking forward to it as much as Sami Pajari: the 17-year-old who was elected AKK Flying Finn Future Star of 2019, following in a long tradition of young Finnish drivers who have been given a head start by the Finnish federation on their home rally.
This evening Pajari safely guided his Ford Fiesta R2T through the opening 2.31-kilometre Harju stage that provided a taster of the 22 stages that are to follow, co-driven by Antti Haapala. He stopped the clocks in 2m12.0s, ranking 10thamong the 14 Junior WRC competitors that he is joining this weekend, and 49thoverall.
The Harju test, located very close to the Paviljonki service park, differed from the other stages in that it was run on asphalt (with the cars using gravel tyres) near the centre of host town Jyväskylä. As a result, the cars were sliding a lot, putting on a great show for the thousands of spectators who had flocked to the stage.
So far, it’s mission perfectly accomplished for Pajari, who did not put a scratch on the car and heeded the advice that he was given before the start not to try and be a hero from the opening stage. But the real test is still to come.
He said: “I had a lot of fun. It’s not really a normal rally for me and it was really exciting. I was concentrating so hard on my driving I didn’t feel that nervous, which was really good. Luckily, I was only waiting on the start line for just two minutes, so it wasn’t long before I could get going. So many fans were there who spoke to me and said some really nice things; I really liked that they were interested in me – I even had a few requests for selfies! The car feels so good. Tomorrow will feel completely different of course but still good all the same. I’m looking forward to the proper rally now!”
Pajari and Haapala will be back in action tomorrow, with the first car entering service at 06:40 ahead of the opening stage, Oittilla, at 08:18.
Picture: Taneli Niinimäki/AKK