Sami Pajari, the 17-year-old who has been handed the chance of a lifetime with a prize drive on Neste Rally Finland after being elected AKK Flying Finn Future Star 2019, has made the most of his opportunity on day one.
The rally got underway with a short spectator super special on asphalt last night, but today Pajari and his co-driver Antti Haapala were catapulted into the bulk of the real action: 10 gravel stages through the flat-out Finnish forests.
At the wheel of his Ford Fiesta R2T – used by all the Junior WRC competitors, who the youngster joined for a one-off outing on Neste Rally Finland – it didn’t take long for his first fastest stage time to come: SS3, which was only the second stage of the day.
Pajari took a second-fastest and a third-fastest stage time in the afternoon as well, to head into the final spectator stage of the day exactly tied on overall time with the fifth-placed Junior WRC competitor: reigning European Junior champion Martin Sesks from Latvia.
On the final street stage, Sesks set the fastest time, which puts Pajari sixth overnight in the Junior WRC standings after his very first day of Rally Finland and 27thoverall.
“I’m quite happy,” said Pajari, returning an unmarked car to final service at Paviljonki. “I don’t know how I was able to win a stage today to be honest: I was just driving like I do in the Finnish Championship. I wasn’t taking any risks; it was all just coming to me very naturally and easily. I know it’s easy to say but it was actually quite easy to do. I’ve posted some really good times today and to be able to do top-five times in the Junior WRC at this level is a really great feeling. Especially doing my dream event: Rally Finland.”
Tomorrow, Pajari and Haapala will tackle eight more stages on faster and wider roads close to Jämsä: classic Rally Finland stages, featuring several of the event’s famous jumps.
Picture: Taneli Niinimäki/AKK