The FIA Junior World Rally Championship season, which had started less than perfect for Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen, finally turned to better with a commanding victory in WRC Rally de Portugal. The rough event saw every driver in the class change a tyre at least once during a special stage and finally it was Pajari who was able to manage the car home with the least issues. After two events with only the stage points to bring home, the championship points for the win play a key role in Pajari’s championship hunt.
The rally started on Thursday evening with a spectator stage where the Finnish duo snatched the first fastest time on the streets of Coimbra, already collecting a crucial championship point on the scoreboard.
Friday was perhaps the most grueling day of the event with 125 kilometers of rough special stages with no service breaks between them. Already the first stage of the day collected a few tires and on the second it was Pajari’s turn to perform a rapid tire change operation mid-stage. Just under two minutes Pajari and Mälkönen were already back in action, but dropped down to fourth place in JWRC classification. The issues however only boosted the pair and the next five stages saw them take the fastest times one after the other. As their rivals had to keep changing tyres during rough stages, at the end of the day Pajari and Mälkönen climbed all the way up to the top spot with over three and half minutes of an advantage before the second running Lauri Joona and almost 12 minutes ahead of the Estonian Robert Virves in third. From this setting the plan for Saturday was clear: not to have a puncture, no matter the times.
While Saturday had more stage mileage scheduled, this time there was a merciful service break during the day to ease the struggle to survive to the end. Fortunately for Pajari and Mälkönen, the day turned out to be rather an uneventful one for the Finns. They were able to keep a steady, even if slow and safe, pace throughout the day. The others behind competed for the stage points available for fastest stage times and multiple tyres were again changed amid those battles, which only resulted in Pajari’s lead growing to almost five minutes to Joona in second, come the overnight break. Virves in third was in turn already 20 minutes behind Joona.
“Two tough and dusty days behind us now, it has been very rough for both the crews and the cars. Today went as planned, with no issues, and we were even able to push a bit in a few places on more clear roads and have some fun. The roads on Sunday aren’t as rocky perhaps, so they should in that sense be a bit more easier to manage,” Pajari summed up the rough event so far at the end of Saturday.
Sunday would see 5 more special stages with 49 competitive kilometers in total to manage, with no need for changes in the well proven tactics. Championship points predictions showed Pajari had the chance to climb to third, while the fight for the lead was tightening between Armstrong and Joona, who would be around 10 points ahead of Pajari. Some help for Pajari’s championship fight might also come from Virves and Creighton, who could snatch stage points away from the two points leaders.
Virves politely complied and clocked in two fastest times, with Armstrong claiming the rest and in the process also the top spot in the championship fight. For Pajari, Sunday was all about driving safe and sound and he performed perfectly, claiming the first JWRC win of the season. Second in the final class classification was Lauri Joona and third Robert Virves.
“This 50th season of the World Rally Championship has been celebrated here with the galas and famous guests. Certainly a good way to celebrate are also these nice Finnish results in both the main WRC category and our Finnish one-two in JWRC with Lauri Joona. Not too bad. And now we are back in the championship fight too,” relieved and delighted Pajari said at the end of Rally de Portugal.
The FIA Junior World Rally Championship continues in Estonia in July, which is the next rally for Pajari in the Ford Fiesta Rally3. Before that there will be a drive in Toksport WRT serviced Skoda Fabia Rally2 EVO in the WRC2 category of Rally Italia Sardegna in June, the first international event for Pajari in the category.
JWRC Classifications – Rally de Portugal
- 1. Sami Pajari – Enni Mälkönen (FIN)
- 2. Lauri Joona (FIN) +4:30.2
- 3. Robert Virves (EST) +23:37.7
- 4. Jon Armstrong (GBR) +30:51.5
- 5. McRae Kimathi (KEN) +1:56:38.9
Unofficial Championship points – FIA Junior WRC, 3/5 events completed
- 1. Jon Armstrong (GBR) 67p
- 2. Lauri Joona (FIN) 66p
- 3. Sami Pajari (FIN) 56p
- 4. Robert Virves (EST) 48p
- 5. William Creighton (IRL) 28p
Unofficial Championship points – WRC3 Open
- 1. Sami Pajari (FIN) 62p
- 2. Lauri Joona (FIN) 43p
- 3. Enrico Brazzoli (ITA) 33p
- 4. William Creighton (IRL) 30p
- 5. McRae Kimathi (KEN) 30p
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