Sami Pajari – Enni Mälkönen duo secured their first career win in the WRC2 category of the Finnish round of the World Rally Championship, which concluded on the slopes of Himos on Sunday. The Finnish pair, driving for Toksport WRT, was consistently fast throughout the competition.
The Secto Rally Finland kicked off on Friday with the Harju special stage in front of a large audience, where Pajari-Mälkönen made a solid drive and set the sixth-fastest time.
On Friday, the real speed was unleashed on the Laukaa special stage, resulting in the fastest time for Pajari’s team, moving them into the lead of the class. Throughout Friday’s battle, they faced tough competition from another Finnish pair, Jari Huttunen – Antti Haapala.
On the penultimate stage of Friday, Pajari suffered a puncture, causing them to lose nearly 10 seconds to Huttunen at once. At the end of the day’s final stage in Harju, the gap to the top was 12.9 seconds.
Saturday began with the return of the Västilä stage after a long break, and it was evident what Pajari-Mälkönen were aiming for in this rally. Pajari immediately took 10 seconds off Huttunen’s lead. The gap was reduced to 2.9 seconds as they started the Päijälä stage, where Huttunen managed to tighten it to 6 seconds again. After that, Pajari secured the fastest times on the next two stages, and Huttunen’s lead was only 1.3 seconds.
After the mid-day service, the Västilä stage was run again, and this time the battle for victory for Huttunen came to an end as their car hit a rock, forcing them to retire.
At this point, Adrien Fourmaux, who was behind Pajari, had already fallen 38.7 seconds behind. So, it was no longer necessary to push to the maximum to secure all available points. Among all the Rally2 cars, only 0.9 seconds separated Pajari-Mälkönen from their teammate Oliver Solberg from Toksport, who, however, were not competing for championship points in Finland.
At this stage, Pajari began to approach the more challenging sections cautiously, ensuring that they didn’t jeopardize the highest championship points with unnecessary risks.
For Pajari, the Sunday’s four stages were mainly a formality. With alertness and composure, they navigated through the final day’s four stages. Even with this approach, the French duo Adrien Fourmaux – Alexandre Coria couldn’t come closer than 33.8 seconds to Pajari-Mälkönen.
“There was really nothing bad about the race, it was absolutely fantastic. The roads were fantastic, and it’s a shame that Huttunen dropped out; it was such a great battle”, said co-driver Enni Mälkönen at the finish line.
“Well, there was one bad thing, the puncture on Friday. Otherwise, everything went pretty smoothly. There’s nothing to complain about; the car worked great throughout the rally. I can’t really comprehend it yet; it’s a relieved feeling that the rally is behind us, but the victory almost leaves me speechless.“
“A huge thanks to everyone who has been here supporting and cheering us on; the support has been incredible. A big thank you also to those who make all this possible; it feels amazing to take the victory in the home rally”, exclaimed Pajari shortly after crossing the finish line.
Results: Rally Finland – WRC2
1. Sami Pajari & Enni Mälkönen (FIN) Skoda
2. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA) Ford +33.8
3. Nikolay Gryazin (ANA) Skoda +1:07.8
4. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) Skoda +1:31.5
5. Mikko Heikkilä (FIN) Skoda +2:00.6
1. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) 82p
2. Yohan Rossel (FRA) 77p
3. Sami Pajari (FIN) 71p
4. Oliver Solberg (SWE) 64p
5. Gus Greensmith (GBR) 62p
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