Pajari’s season continues in Croatia

Sami Pajari and co-driver Enni Mälkönen’s season continues with the Croatian World Rally Championship event, which starts on Friday.

The duo’s first season in the WRC2 series began on the snowy roads of Sweden in February, where they secured the third highest points. The Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 has been fast on different surfaces in the early season events, so the Finnish Toksport WRT duo don’t have to stress about the varied conditions of springtime Croatia when it comes to their equipment. 

The capital city Zagreb serves as the center of the Croatian World Rally Championship event. On Thursday, only the competition’s shakedown and ceremonial start are scheduled, which includes a tribute and a moment of silence in memory for Craig Breen, who passed away in a testing accident last week.

Friday marks the start of proper racing, with four separate special stages being driven twice to the west and southwest of Zagreb. Between the morning and afternoon loops, there will be a service in Zagreb. Friday’s special stages have a combined length of 130 kilometers.

On Saturday the stages are in the same direction, and they are similar to the Friday ones, but this time the route heads further towards the coast, almost to Rijeka. The length of the special stages is 116 kilometers, but the distance of the liaison almost doubles compared to the previous day.

Sunday includes two separate special stages north of Zagreb, which are driven twice. The last special stage of Sunday starts after 2 p.m. Finnish time. In total, the competition includes 20 special stages with a combined length of 301.26 kilometers.

Pajari has previous experience of Croatia from two years

Pajari has participated in Croatia twice before, with good pace, but both times a small mistake cost them dearly.

In the 2021 season, their car slipped off the lead in the JWRC class after a right-turning jump, but miraculously they managed to continue the rally after hitting some trees, and even set several fastest stage times after some repairs. Last season, on the final day of the event, the car slid off the rain and mud-slicked road on a right-turning corner on the third-to-last special stage, leading to retirement.

“I’ve had good speed here in the past, but in both years we’ve made small but crucial mistakes in this event. We had good tests over the weekend, and the car felt good. It’s a challenging rally, but I really like this event, especially if the weather is dry.” 

“As to why those mistakes have occurred here, they just happen sometimes, and I don’t think it’s related to this particular event. There’s always a reason for them, and we learn from them. I’m looking forward to this race and the large audience, without having a specific placement target in mind, although of course, having stood on the podium once this season, we aim for a good result,” Pajari said.

Experience helps to adapt to weather conditions

With two years of experience in Croatia, Pajari can form certain expectations about the competition beforehand, even though the route is not exactly the same from previous years. 

“The route is pretty much the same, I think one special stage has been removed from last year and one new one has been added. So there aren’t too many big changes expected. The weather is always a bit of a question mark here. By midweek, it looks like there won’t be much rain during the rally, but it can change quite quickly here.

“In one part of the route, the conditions can be completely different from another part. The terrain here is quite rolling, so the weather on one side of the mountain can be completely opposite to the other side. Even on a short distance, the weather can change a lot. The roads overall are quite similar, but the direction towards Rijeka stood out from last year because of the dense fog, and it may differ somewhat from other areas,” Pajari says.