Mixed emotions for Pajari in Portugal

Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen had a mixed performance at the WRC Rally Portugal. The tough opening day ended in a retirement, but later on the Toksport WRT Škoda Fabia RS helming duo was able to match the performance of their class leaders.

The three-day competition was held in Portugal’s heat and concluded on Sunday afternoon. Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen did not compete for the WRC2 championship points, but the event offered them a good opportunity to compare their pace without pressure.

The event provided the perfect line-up for learning from the best, as even the WRC2 class was filled with drivers with experience in the leading WRC1 category, including Andreas Mikkelsen, Teemu Suninen, Oliver Solberg, Gus Greensmith, and Adrien Fourmaux. Furthermore, the road conditions were expected to be difficult, and that they certainly were.

On Friday, the day’s eight special stages were run without any service, and there was only a short tire change after the first three stages. Therefore, it was essential to take care of the tires and the car as well.

Pajari’s cautious strategy did not pay off this time. The pair had a puncture on the third stage of the day, which forced them to change the tire on the stage, costing them about two minutes. Issues didn’t end there, however. They had a small spin at the end of the same stage, adding twenty seconds to their time. The following couple of stages went smoothly, but then the Arganil special stage, which had caused problems in the morning, still had more in store: The car’s steering arm was damaged, making it impossible to drive and thus resulting in retirement for the day.

“We didn’t really get anything positive from Friday except that we weren’t driving for championship points this time,” Pajari reflected.

Saturday’s itinerary featured seven special stages, and already the first one proved to be like being reborn for Pajari and Mälkönen, who clocked in the third-fastest time. Their pace continued to remain near the front runners throughout the day. If only the Saturday’s times were to be compared, Pajari would have finished the day in fifth place. Starting the day in 38th place in the class, they had climbed to 21st by the end of the day.

On Sunday, there were still four special stages left to perfect their feel for the car in anticipation of the Rally Sardinia waiting in June with similar conditions. Again on Sunday their speed was excellent, and their times were close to the front runners. In the end, the Finns’ final position among the Rally2 cars was 16th. However, more importantly, their speed improved positively during the weekend after the challenging start.

“After Friday’s difficulties, we were able to raise our pace to a competitive level, which of course leaves a good taste in the mouth in the end,” Pajari evaluated their mixed event.

Pajari and Mälkönen’s season continues in just over two weeks in Sardinia from June 1st to 4th.

Results: Rally de Portugal – Rally2-class

1. Gus Greensmith (GBR) Skoda 3:44:55.1
2. Oliver Solberg (SWE) Skoda +1.2
3. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Skoda +43.0
4. Yohan Rossel (FRA) Citroen +1:49.8
5. Teemu Suninen (FIN) Hyundai +2:32.9
16. Sami Pajari & Enni Mälkönen (FIN) Skoda +32:38.3