The finnish pair Sami Pajari – Marko Salminen returned Finland on the list of JWRC medalists as they claimed bronze after the final event in Monza. The only previous Finnish top-3 medalist in the championship was Janne Tuohino back in 2002.
The season made strange by the global pandemic finally came to conclusion after many calendar revisions and cancelled events. The young Flying Finn was untouched by all the hurdles and kept the focus in performing high. As a result, Pajari scored the highest number of fastest stage times of any JWRC driver during the season that comprised all possible road and weather conditions from the snowy Sweden and dried out gravel in Sardinia to the slippery tarmac of Monza.
The season finale in northern Italy started on Thursday in high spirits, when the Finnish pair flew their Ford Fiesta Rally 4 fastest of all JWRC crews around the opening special stage at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. The next one started at the same pace and the second version of the special stages built at the Monza racetrack ended with Pajari again claiming the championship point awarded for the quickest stage time. The stage after that, however, was to be the championship title decider for Pajari: coming from a muddy section back to asphalt at a right turn, the car went wide and hit a building at the side of the road. The race was over for the day and Pajari and Salminen would not continue hunting fastest stage times until after restarting again for Saturday and missing the remaining three stages of Friday.
The car had been fixed overnight into pristine condition and the Finns aimed to attack the stages at the maximum to collect as many points for fastest times as possible. Saturday would, however, also turn out to be a difficult day, but in turn due to drivers before Sami going off the road in slippery and snowy conditions. Already the first stage of the day saw the points leader, Latvian Martin Sesks suffer a high speed off and blocking the narrow road, which meant the stage had to be red flagged and no points were to be awarded. On the second stage of the day Sami was second behind the British Ruairi Bell, but on the third and final stage of the morning loop on the mountain roads Sami was again the quickest, claiming the stage point with over a 30-second margin before Ruairi.
The afternoon loop was to be a repeat of the same three stages as in the morning. Again the first of the three stages was red flagged, this time due to offs in the top WRC class. The second saw Pajari repeating his second quickest time after Ruairi and the third was cancelled altogether before any cars were sent to the stage, on grounds of safety issues imposed by heavy snowfall onto the road throughout the day. The day was wrapped up again at the Monza circuit with a repeat of a stage from the day before. In the total downpour of rain and in the cover of darkness lit only by the cars’ own lights, Pajari and Salminen claimed the second quickest time among the JWRC crews.
After Saturday Pajari was fourth in the JWRC class and hopes for the top positions in the championship relied only on other drivers’ errors. All Pajari could do anymore was to secure as many fastest times as possible while remaining on the road and see how others would fare.
Final day of the ACI Rally Monza was scheduled to feature three stages at the Monza circuit: the first of which was already driven at the end of both Friday and Saturday, while the other two being a new configuration and to be driven for the second time as the Power Stage in WRC. Pajari started the day by taking yet another championship point with the fastest time around the stage. The second stage of the day was claimed by the JWRC rally leader from Sweden, Tom Kristensson. Of the JWRC crews only the new champion Kristensson would get to drive the stage at full speed, as for others the stage was once more red flagged due to a crashed competitor blocking the road.
In the eventful rally the Finnish pair Pajari and Salminen finally finished in fourth place in JWRC class and thus claimed third place and the bronze medal in the overall JWRC championship. The Latvian Martin Sesks took home the second place, finishing only three points ahead of Pajari.
“The 2020 season is done and we certainly did many things right to get third place in the championship. We gained a lot of experience this year, which will help us to be stronger again next year. I want to thank everyone who has supported us and helped in my career. This is just the beginning!” the flying Finn sums up the season.
Text: Sami Pajari communications