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Fri 31 May 2024

Sami surges to WRC2 lead in Sardinia

Sami Pajari threw caution to the wind on Friday at Rally Italia Sardegna, charging to a lead of 18.3sec alongside co-driver Enni Mälkönen.

Former Junior WRC champion Pajari bookended Friday with the quickest times on the opening and closing of the day’s four rocky speed tests, as he searches for his maiden victory aboard a Toyota GR Yaris Rally2.

The Finn’s biggest threat came in the form of Pierre Louis-Loubet - making only his second start of the season in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 - with the Corsica-native winning the day’s second stage to briefly take the overall lead by 1.2sec.

But Loubet’s time at the top was short-lived after he caught in the dust of Emil Lindholm, who had pulled over to change a wheel on his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 in SS3. Loubet completed ninth-quickest as a result and is awaiting a notional time at the time of writing.

Pajari moved back into the lead, completing the penultimate test 0.6sec down on stage winner Georg Linnamäe before going 3.5sec quicker than Loubet on the day’s finale.

Fresh from victory at Vodafone Rally de Portugal earlier this month, Spain’s Jan Solans rounded out the top three in a similar Yaris to that of Pajari. In a strong showing for the Toyotas, Estonian Linnamäe is a further 3.5sec adrift in fourth while Marco Bulacia, on his return to Škoda machinery, rounds out the top five.

Aiming to repeat his podium finish from Portugal, Josh McErlean returned his Toksport-run Fabia RS to the Alghero service park overnight in sixth position, 17.8sec up on Teemu Suninen, who finds himself in a tight tussle with fellow Finn Lauri Joona. Only 0.7sec split their i20 N and Fabia RS cars at close of play.

Pajari additionally leads the WRC2 Challenger Championship for Drivers category while Armin Kremer, sitting 20th overall in WRC2, has a commanding 1min 36.1sec lead over Pierre Lafay in the WRC Masters Cup for Drivers.