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.”
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.”