The FIA Junior World Rally Championship returns to gravel this week as Rally Portugal starts on Thursday evening. Joining the hunt for glory and championship points, Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen start the rally in the familiar Ford Fiesta Rally3. The season so far has been less than ideal for the pair, giving them only the fifth place in JWRC points.
Technical difficulties in the JWRC season opener in Sweden stole most of the points there, as did sliding off the road in the muddy event of Croatia Rally. So far all the points in the bag are those the Finns have collected from setting the fastest stage times, something Pajari and Mälkönen certainly know how to do.
The WRC3 Open category championship in turn started already in the wintery Monte-Carlo, where Pajari got his first international 4WD class victory. Points collected there give Pajari and Mälkönen the top spot in the series, but with only the four best out of five results counted in the final scores, a good catch of points in Portugal is required to maintain the good championship positions.
Rally Portugal is already mostly familiar to Pajari due to last season’s JWRC event taking place in the same region. Even if both the car and Pajari’s co-driver have changed since then, the same well learned principle applies again this time around: the winner might not be the fastest, but the one who survives to the end without major issues.
“We saw the first punctured tyres already on the first day of the recce. The overall conditions seem to be much the same as last year, maybe it’s a bit more dry and dusty. It did rain a lot last time right before the event and now we haven’t seen quite the same. The route itself is mostly the same again, so it helps with the pace notes as I got to drive many of the stages at full speed,” Pajari summarises the premises for the event during the reconnaissance.
Rally Portugal has built its home in the city of Matosinhos, only a short distance north-west from the capital of Porto. The rally starts on Thursday evening at 19.00 local time, immediately followed by the first special stage at the city of Coimbra. Friday being the first full competitive day of the event, already brings a huge challenge to all the crews: 9 special stages with a total length of 124,5 kilometres and all without a single service.
Those who survive the gruelling first day, get to continue the event on Saturday, which thankfully does include a service break in the middle of the day. However, the 7 stages of the day measure up to 165 kilometres of competitive distance, including the little more than 3 kilometres long spectator stage closing the day. The final day of Sunday then includes 5 more stages with a total length of 49 kilometres and climaxing the rally with the legendary stage of Fafe. The points scoring final Power Stage starts at 12:18 local time.
A true event of surviving to end is in store for all the crews, yet Pajari hopes for the challenging season to start to bear fruit on the dry Portuguese soil, even if even getting to the event already had its difficulties.
“We were in Porto almost 20 hours later than planned, but that’s how flying is at times. At least we didn’t miss anything really important here. Hopefully we now have the major troubles behind us for this event,” Pajari laughs off the travelling mishaps.
Championship Points – FIA Junior WRC, 2/5 events
1. Jon Armstrong (GBR) 47p
2. Lauri Joona (FIN) 47p
3. Robert Virves (EST) 29p
4. William Creighton (IRL) 27p
5. Sami Pajari (FIN) 25p
Sami Pajari online:
Photo: Jani Salonen