Sami Pajari and co-driver Enni Mälkönen will kick off their season’s final World Rally Championship (WRC) event this Thursday at the Central European Rally. Competing with a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 from Toksport WRT, the Finnish duo is embarking on their eighth WRC start of the season.
The WRC Central European Rally covers the territories of three countries, with the route passing through the Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria. The rally HQ is located in Passau, a southeastern Bavarian state in Germany, from where participants will shuttle back and forth to neighboring states during the event.
The shakedown stage on Wednesday was conducted around Titling, located around twenty kilometers north of Passau. However, already on Thursday, the rally travels much farther. The competitive mileage starts over 200 kilometers away in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The opening stage on Thursday will take place near Prague, followed by a move south to Klatovy, where the second stage of the day will run after nightfall. For the overnight break competitors will return back to Passau.
Friday will see a return to the Czech Republic from Passau, with three stages run twice in the itinerary, only interrupted by a tire change in Prachatice. There will be no daytime service on Friday. Once again, competitors will return to Passau for the night.
The first two stages on Saturday will be in Austria, and the third in Germany, followed by a longer service break back at the service park. The evening program will consist of running the same three stages again, with the last one starting at sunset.
On Sunday, the first stage will be in Austria and the second in Germany, with an interim service break in Ulrichsberg, Austria. These same stages will be run again on Sunday, with a final switch back to the German side for the Power Stage. The official awards ceremony will take place a couple of hours later in Passau.
Pajari and Mälkönen completed solid preparatory tests, and they are looking forward to the new event with excitement.
“The recce went smoothly and it’s nice to be back on asphalt. More precisely, the last time we raced on asphalt was in Croatia back in April. The Friday stages in the Czech Republic seem a bit bumpier and narrower, but perhaps not quite as bumpy as the familiar Barum Rally from the ERC,” Pajari summarized.
With excellent flight connections, the Central European round of the championship will attract a significant number of Finnish supporters. Nevertheless, the Finnish duo can expect support from other nationalities as well, as Toksport’s headquarters are in Germany, and Škoda is a source of pride for the Czechs.
In the WRC2 class standings, the Finnish pair is currently in fifth place. However, a few other driver teams have the chance to accumulate more points in the remaining two rounds of the season and potentially overtake them, as Pajari’s crew has already completed their points-scoring events for this season.
In the WRC2 Challenger category, they currently hold the top spot, and only Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz can potentially catch up over the upcoming weekend. The final ranking will likely be determined in the season-ending event in Japan. Teammate Nikolay Gryazin also has the opportunity to improve his position, but at the very least, a bronze medal is guaranteed for the Finnish driver duo.