News | 25/04/2021

Pajari third in Junior WRC standings after the opening round in Croatia Rally

Sami Pajari and Marko Salminen started their FIA Junior World Rally Championship season on Croatian tarmac in mixed feelings: the pair bagged 9 fastest times, more than anyone else in the class, but ended the rally in 6th place. With the points awarded for fastest times, the pair is now third in the JWRC championship after the season opener.

The Finns started the rally carefully with fourth fastest stage time, but already on the second stage Sami started to attack and took home the fastest time in the class by over 13 seconds. That meant Pajari and Salminen also took the lead in JWRC classification. The next stage, however, would become the rally defining moment for the pair: after a blazingly fast first part, a small jump surprised Sami and as a result the crew suffered a high speed roll. Thankfully both competitors survived with no injuries and as even the car had only minor damage, it was possible for them to continue the stage. The damage to the car meant that the following stage saw Pajari and Salminen lose more than four minutes behind the leader, dropping them down to eight place.

“At the end of the stage there was a crest that made us fly further than we expected. It was closely followed by a right hander where we went out, dropped to a ditch and hit a few trees quite hard on the way back. Luckily we were able to drag ourselves back to the service and the M-Sport mechanics did a fantastic job to fix the car into top shape again.” Pajari summarises the incident.

After the first midday service, the afternoon loop of the first day was a more successful one for the crew: Despite the crash in the morning, Pajari already timed two fastest stage times, as well as one third fastest, with the fourth stage being red flagged and notional times assigned to all the JWRC crews.

“A bit of mixed emotions at the moment. It’s my second tarmac event ever and our speed is already very good, but of course my mistake with pacenotes in the recce is frustrating. We just have to learn from this and we try to continue at the same pace to try and get as many special stage points as possible.” Pajari recaps the first day of Croatia Rally.

The Saturday morning was again a challenging one, although now due to technical issues with the car as the brakes didn’t work as expected. The serpentine roads of the mountainous region meant any brake issues would cost dearly and as a result, the pair’s gap to the lead widened by almost a minute on just the two first stages of the day. The first loop of the day consisted of four stages and surprisingly Pajari was able to snatch the fastest times on the two stages before the first service break.

“We were able to fix the breaks on the road section between the stages and after that we were able to enjoy the driving again!” Pajari rejoiced at the Saturday service break.

The afternoon loop on Saturday proved to be a positively uneventful one, with Pajari claiming three more fastest stage times which meant the crew had now narrowed the gap to the class leader to under four minutes and found themselves on the sixth place in overall JWRC classification. The fifth place was still 40 seconds away with only the final four stages to go on Sunday.

“It was a good day after all, five fastest stage times and especially a lot of learning about driving on asphalt. Let’s try and keep the same pace tomorrow!” Pajari reflected at the end of the second day.

Sunday, the final day of the rally, saw the Pajari-Salminen pair start the day a bit off the pace with only sixth fastest time on the opening stage of the day. All was back to normal on the second stage however, when Pajari timed the fastest time again and with a gap of almost 9 seconds. The third stage was cancelled for the JWRC crews and a notional time was assigned for all them, so only one stage was remaining in the event with Pajari only 1,1 seconds behind William Creighton in fifth place. After some back and forth in the stage split times, the Brit was in the end able to keep up with Sami’s pace on the final stage and even setting the fastest stage time 0,1 seconds ahead of the Finns.

“This was pretty much my first ever tarmac event, as the Rally Monza last fall was what it was, with the snow and all. We learned a lot and saw that the pace is there even on tarmac. It’s a good place to be, as at least we are third in the championship too, before the second JWRC event.” Pajari thought as the pair was heading back to Zagreb after the final stage.

The first Junior WRC victory of the season was claimed by the British pair Jon Armstrong - Phil Hall, second were Latvians Mārtiņš Sesks - Renars Francis and on the third place finished the other Finnish pair Lauri Joona - Ari Koponen.

The next FIA Junior World Rally Championship event takes place in Portugal on 20-23th of May. The rally service park is located in the city of Matosinhos in the northwestern part of the country near the city of Porto.

JWRC points after 1/5 rounds

  1. Armstrong 27p
  2. Sesks 18p
  3. Pajari 17p
  4. Joona 16p
  5. Koci 15p