Wednesday | 18 Nov 2020

Pajari: Finland’s rising star hoping to make history in Monza

The list of FIA Junior WRC champions features names such as Ogier, Loeb, Sordo and Evans. But no Finns...

That’s something Sami Pajari will be hoping to change at next month’s ACI Rally Monza (3 - 6 December), which plays host to the final round of the series.

With one round to go, he finds himself at the foot of a thrilling three-way fight for the title, just four points adrift of fellow Nordic driver Tom Kristensson and 14 points behind Latvian leader Martins Sesks. 

Eighteen-year-old Pajari is the Junior WRC’s youngest entrant and is still learning the ropes during his first full year. He was the winner of AKK Flying Finn Future Star award and made his debut at Neste Rally Finland in 2019.

“I was 17 at the time and had just won my class in the fifth round of the national championship, so I think they thought, ‘maybe this guy has some talent’!” Pajari laughs.  

“Of course, there were many kinds of different tests [for the award]. I was quickly improving my skills and I think that was one of the biggest reasons why they picked me. After being chosen for the award I got some really huge support to go and do Rally Finland. 

“There were so many new things for me in terms of the rally itself. Everything was bigger, so it was really exciting but that also made it tough. The driving itself was not actually a big change for me because there were so many other things.”

After breaking a driveshaft on Saturday, the teenager won every stage during Sardinia's closing leg

Thrown in at the deep end? Perhaps. But Pajari relished the opportunity.

He claimed a handful of fastest times before going off the road on the Saturday afternoon, a drive which impressed AKK supporters who awarded a subsidised entry to the Junior WRC this year. 

So far, the youngster has shown thrilling flashes of speed, claiming 14 Wolf stage points (awarded for each stage victory) after three outings. But things haven’t always been straightforward. 

Mechanical gremlins at the opening round in Sweden saw the Finn finish fifth, whilst a maiden victory went begging in Estonia after nudging a concrete block in his M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally4. 

“I expected a lot from Sweden because the roads there are quite similar to some of the rallies we have in the Finnish championship,” he explained.  “We had some technical problems in the first part of the rally and there was not enough time to get back in the fight.” 

“In Estonia, it was nothing to do with the car or any failures, it was completely my own fault. I won the first stage, but then I hit one of these concrete blocks on the inside of the corner early in the loop. I had to complete the remaining four stages with a broken car so I lost around a minute.

“I think we took seven or eight fastest times during the rest of the rally and we were only 15sec behind [Martins] Sesks at the finish. I can be happy about that, but it would have been much better if I didn’t make the mistake!”

FIA Junior WRC title to be decided in Monza

FIA Junior WRC title to be decided ...

ACI Rally Monza (04-06 December) has been confirmed as the final round on the FIA Junior WRC Championship.

Read More

Sardinia was another steep learning curve. As rocky terrain decimated the Junior field, Pajari’s rally unravelled after breaking a driveshaft over the infamous Micky’s Jump. 

All he could do after that was drive flat out to salvage maximum points from the final leg - which he did. 

“We won every stage on Sunday. Stage wins were the only thing we could look for at that moment. I knew that my position overall was only fifth or something, so I was just looking to get as many stage points as I could.”

Now, what about Monza? With 1.5x championship points up for grabs, plus the usual Wolf points bonus for every stage win, a clean run could allow the teenager to become the first Finnish driver to win the Junior WRC. 

“Let’s say it will be quite interesting. It’s a new challenge for me and it will be my first proper Tarmac rally which makes it quite difficult. But it’s a new event, so there will be challenges for everybody and not just me.”

“I was lucky to do some driving on one of my local circuits the other weekend, but most of the local tracks in Finland are already closed because the winter is coming, so it has been difficult to do much.

“Finishing in the top three would be a good result for my first year, but when I know I have a chance to win the championship if it all goes the right way, then I really need to believe in that and maybe I can do it. If I didn’t believe in myself then I probably wouldn’t be able to do it.”


And finally, asked what he thought about the prize - a brand-new M-Sport EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta R5 MkII accompanied by a Pirelli tyre support package - Pajari smiled: 

“I think it’s fantastic and it's nice to see these kinds of awards for young drivers. It makes the championship fight much more serious and that’s also why there are so many good drivers here.”

“I have driven maybe 40km or 50km in an R5 on a test, and I always say it was the best 50km of my life! I hope I can do it again at some point!” 

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