Pajari strives to celebrate with the home crowd

Sami Pajari and co-driver Enni Mälkönen will continue their WRC2 campaign on Thursday at WRC Finland. Secto Rally Finland marks the fifth event for the Finnish duo driving for Toksport WRT, where they aim to score valuable championship points. In the previous round in Estonia, the duo and their Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 performed admirably, securing an impressive second place, setting them up as one of the top contenders in their home event.

This year, similarly to the previous edition, the rally in Central Finland will feature 22 special stages, covering a total distance of 320 kilometers. Last time in Finland, Pajari showed impressive results in his second-ever Rally2-class event and climbed all the way to third,  until a suspension issue caused him to retire for the day on the penultimate stage of Saturday. However, the weekend wasn’t without highlights, as Pajari and Mälkönen claimed their first-ever stage win in the legendary Ruuhimäki Power Stage on Sunday.

Heading into this year’s competition, Pajari and Mälkönen are considered among the top contenders for the victory. Building on their successful second-place finish in Estonia, they have been fine-tuning their skills on the Finnish gravel roads. The pre-event test road conditions were wet, and it’s likely that there will be at least some wet sections during the actual rally as well.

Pajari commented on the challenging conditions: “We did experience wet and soft conditions during the tests, and I’m sure we’ll encounter them during the rally too. In terms of car setup, it doesn’t differ significantly based on weather. However, as a driver, it’s always nice to get a feel for how the car behaves in wet conditions.”

The rally roads in Central Finland have received occasional heavy rainfall, which means dust shouldn’t be much of an issue this year. Instead, there might be soft surfaces and even chances for aquaplaning to deal with. Pajari acknowledged that handling the car in slippery conditions requires the right mindset and pushing to the limit.  

“We’re all on equal ground when it comes to dealing with the slippery roads, and we all have to maximize the grip we can find. If the weather makes it challenging, there will be differences between drivers, as we saw in Estonia. On an easy day, everyone will have a similar experience.”

Starting the rally as one of the pre-event favorites in front of their home crowd doesn’t add any pressure on Pajari, and he doesn’t need to take additional risks due to his desire for success. Their pace has been competitive enough to fight for top positions in several events this season.  

“We finished third in Sweden and second in Estonia. We set the fastest time on the Power Stage and missed the win by less than 10 seconds. So, we’ve been in the fight for victory already, and that won’t change our expectations. We can certainly aim for the podium, and why not push for the win.”

Compared to last year, this year’s route offers some fresh new stages, and Pajari is excited about the variety. 

“There are some new sections this year that haven’t been used in recent years. On Friday, half of the Laukaa stage was part of last year’s route, but the rest is new. Saturday brings a new and fantastic stage called Västilä, and Sunday also has some fresh stages. I really enjoy the challenge of driving on the new roads.”

Pajari highlighted the difficulty of Myhinpää stage on Friday, where setting a good time won’t be easy for anyone. Overall, he is thrilled to compete in front of his home crowd, where the support is strongest.

The rally will kick off on Thursday with the Harju stage at 19:05, and the event will conclude on Sunday with the final stage starting in Himos at 13:15.