Sami Pajari with the Toyota Yaris Rally1 in Latvia

Finally ! The WRC is finally looking to the future and is finally giving hopefuls a chance. After Martins Sesks in Poland with the Ford Puma, Sami Pajari will make his debut in the elite in Latvia. Running only since 2016, the Finn will discover the category.

Published on 06/06/2024 à 09:05

Loïc ROCCI

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Sami Pajari with the Toyota Yaris Rally1 in Latvia

Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen will discover the Toyota Yaris Rally1 at the Latvia Rally (Photo: Nikos Katikis/DPPI)

As summer approaches, the good news keeps coming WRC. During the next rally from Poland (June 27-30), Martins Seks will make his debut in Rally1 thanks to the encouraging intervention of the promoter. The 24-year-old Latvian will first use the Ford Puma Rally1 without the hybrid unit, then he will return to Latvia (July 18-21) this time with the same car as Grégoire Munster and Adrien fourmaux. There he will come across another hopeful who will also find himself in the passenger compartment of one of the monsters on the top floor of the FIA ​​pyramid: Sami Pajari.

With his personality which is closer to Marcus Grönholm than to that of Tommi Mäkinen, Pajari has so far been very easy to access. His deep voice and calm diction make him seem older, until his humorous traits betray his youth (22 years old). For the native of Lahti (105 km north of Helsinki), it is the culmination of an almost ideal journey. Champion of his category in Finland on his Opel Astra from its 2e year in competition (2018), he did it again the following year with a Fiesta R2T receiving the prize (and financial support...) of hope from the Finnish federation. His first appearances in the world in 2020 were interesting and he was quick to confirm in 2021 by becoming the youngest winner of the JWRC. In 2022, he continued his training by racing in both Rally3 and Rally2, which allowed him to assert himself as one of the surest prospects. His 2023 campaign with Toksport was a success with a first success in WRC2 in Finland.

Even before the end of the year, his name and that of Enni Mälkönen, his co-driver, were at the top of the list to benefit from a strong program in 2024 with the new Toyota Yaris Rally2. Sami was asked for the development and it was he who made the first outing of the car during the Winter Rally of Dévoluy last December. Present since Monte-Carlo in the WRC2 championship, he has just had 3 consecutive podiums in Sweden (2nd), Croatia (3rd) and especially in Sardinia where he won. Those in charge of Toyota Gazoo Racing judged that he was ready to take the plunge.

« Alongside our Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Challenge program in which we have been training young Japanese drivers since 2015, we also keep an eye on the most talented young drivers competing in the WRC support categories, explains Jari-Matti Latvala. Sami Pajari drives very well with our GR Yaris Rally2 and we would like to see his potential in our Rally1. Not only does it demonstrate great speed, but it also provides our engineers with good information. The Latvia Rally is a fast and fluid event like Finland. This should help him feel more comfortable. It is also on these stages that it is really possible to measure and understand how the aerodynamics of a Rally1 work. So we hope that Sami and Enni will gain good experience there and learn about the car. » Latvia joins the WRC calendar this year which will put Pajari on an equal footing in terms of knowledge of the terrain.

« I am very happy to have this opportunity, commented Sami. It's a goal I've been pursuing for many years, but it's not that often that a place is available in a Rally1. It will be a huge challenge because there are so many new things to learn and the pace at the highest level is also very high. I will try not to focus too much on the result or feel pressure from that side. I just want to enjoy and gain all the experience I can for the future. At least in Latvia the stages are fast and smooth, which I'm used to in Finland. It will also be a new event for everyone, so in that sense we start more or less on par with the best drivers. »

Now that Nordics have the opportunity to be tested at the highest level, wouldn't it also be interesting to look at the case of the Southerners? With what he demonstrated during his appearances this year, doesn't Yohan Rossel also deserve his chance?

 

Loïc ROCCI

Journalist specializing in rallying past, present and future... and with a southern accent

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