Wed 31 Aug 2022

Latvala backs Junior star Pajari

Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Jari-Matti Latvala has tipped reigning FIA Junior WRC champion Sami Pajari as a potential future star.

Pajari won last year’s Junior WRC and, having opted to defend his title this season, now leads the M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 series ahead of the final round at EKO Acropolis Rally Greece next week (8 - 11 September). 

The 20-year-old has been supplementing his Junior WRC drives with sporadic WRC2 outings and, on home soil at Secto Rally Finland earlier this month, steered a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo to a string of leading times. 

Those performances have caught the eye of team boss Latvala, who praised the youngster’s recent run of form.

“I can see already that Sami was able to adapt to the Rally2 car very quickly,” said Latvala. “He is very talented and he has a very good future, but now of course the most important thing is for him to do more rallies and get more experience.

“After that, then there is the chance for him to show his performance and try to get to places - maybe first with a full season of WRC2 and so on - but he is absolutely going in the right direction and he has good people around him,” he added.

Latvala and Pajari both contested the Lahti Historic Rally a couple of weeks ago. Latvala won the event in a Toyota Celica GT-4, while Pajari took a rear-wheel drive Ford Escort RS1800 to third overall. 

Questioned whether he believed Pajari could pose a potential future challenge to WRC wunderkind Kalle Rovanperä, Latvala admitted that plenty of work still needs to be done and reiterated the importance of starting young.

“He has potential, this is clear, but of course there are still a couple of steps which need to be taken,” Latvala explained. “I would say that the sport has changed a little bit.

“Nowadays, you have to start younger - you need to come younger [to the top], and then probably you will maybe retire a bit earlier. When you are around 20 [years-old], you can adapt so quickly to all the changing things and you can learn. When you get older, it becomes more difficult to do this. 

“Age is on Sami’s side and he is definitely on the right track where he is now. I hope one day he will be there challenging Kalle in the future, but like I said, there are many steps that need to be taken and it's difficult to know what will happen.”

Pajari heads to next week’s double-points fixture tied for the lead with Ulsterman Jon Armstrong. Robert Virves is third in the championship a single point behind.

• Full coverage from EKO Acropolis Rally Greece will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.

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