The first year after concluding your time in compulsory education is often a character- and career-building one, and many spend it travelling or enter further education. Sami Pajari looked at those options and thought he could tick both boxes by going rallying, and a year later he is now the Junior World Rally Champion.
Just 19 years old, Pajari [pictured above, right] is the youngest ever to claim the JWRC crown. His career at the wheel was based almost entirely in his home country of Finland until last summer, when the JWRC kicked back into action post-lockdown and he drove an M-Sport Poland-prepared Ford Fiesta Rally4 under the ‘Team Flying Finn’ banner to third in the standings, taking a second-place finish in class on Rally Estonia.
He started 2021 in the same car and sent a warning to his JWRC rivals by winning the class for Rally4 cars on Arctic Rally Finland by 2m16.6s.
The season itself didn’t begin until Rally Croatia, on a slick asphalt surface that was totally new to Pajari.
He adapted quickly to go fastest on SS2, but then lost his lead with a puncture on SS3. He was rapid after service, but ended day one of the season 3m32.4s off the lead. Pajari won half of the stages and three times more than anyone else, but finished last of the drivers not to complete the event under SuperRally rules. With additional points earned for stage wins though, it meant he left third in the standings.
Gravel formed the basis of the next two events, and Pajari matched his best result of 2020 on Rally Portugal before claiming his first JWRC win on Rally Estonia, the first of the points-scoring rallies he already had pacenotes from.
He placed second on the Ypres Rally as the JWRC returned to asphalt, meaning he led the points going into the Rally Spain finale. WRC Esports champion Jon Armstrong sat ahead on the timesheet and in the live title battle through day one, but he then got stuck in a field. That handed Pajari a rally and championship lead he would not give up, even though he suffered a puncture on Saturday.
The other drivers who fell by Pajari’s wayside were this year’s Flying Finn Future Star Lauri Joona, ERC3 Champion Mārtiņš Sesks and Estonian Junior Champion Robert Virves.
Youngest JWRC champions
|Driver||Age at title||Title year||Car||Rally career|
|Sami Pajari||19yrs, 10m & 16d||2021||Ford Fiesta Rally4|
|Jan Solans||21yrs, 11m & 12d||2019||Ford Fiesta R2||14th in ’21 TER|
|Simone Tempestini||22yrs, 1m & 21d||2016||Citroën DS3 R3T||4x Romanian champion|
|Dani Sordo||22yrs, 5m & 28d||2005||Citroën C2 S1600||3rd in 2008 & ’09 WRC|
|Stéphane Lefebvre||22yrs, 6m & 20d||2014||Citroën DS3 R3T||13th in 2016 & ’17 WRC|
After his coronation, Pajari spoke to DirtFish about what his success means to him:
DirtFish: You are the 2021 Junior WRC champion. Will it take a little while to sink in?
Sami Pajari: Yeah, it will take a while. OK, it already feels great, but really to understand what it means and what I have achieved is something so amazing.
DF: There are many greats who’ve won JWRC, but none as young as you. At 19 years old, it’s quite an achievement
SP: Yeah, it is. But nowadays there are many young drivers. We can see Kalle Rovanpera and Oliver Solberg, for example, they are already at the top level and not that much older than me. I think it’s a new trend.
DF: It could be, but it’s still an amazing achievement as the JWRC competition is so high
SP: Yeah, that’s true also. It’s not so easy to say how many different stage winners we had, but there were so many this year. So there were many guys that had the pace, and it was just like when you’re doing it for a longer series and not only one rally, so you need to be consistent and do a great result in many rallies.
That’s what counts, after all. I think we did quite well. OK, we had some off-road moments, in Croatia for example [where he crashed], and here we had a puncture. So it was not easy, but I think that makes the feeling even better at the moment.
DF: We’re seeing a renaissance in Finnish rallying, with the likes of Kalle and yourself coming through at a young age. Things are looking good again for young Finnish drivers in the WRC
SP: I can see what you mean, but I think that we already have quite a good level in our own championships in Finland, so if you can win some rallies in Finland, that means that you can compete at some level abroad also. I think that’s the key. OK, it’s nice to see that there are so many Finns, and I think this also means something for many fans. There are some people who are watching, so I hope this makes them happy also.
DF: There are definitely lots of people happy with the result. It’s not been long since you won, but have you already given thought to what your 2022 program will be?
SP: We now have the award, so we can choose Rally2 or Rally3. But there are a few aspects that we need to really consider. To be honest, so far I don’t know if there’s a final answer, but we should know quite soon.
Pajari’s WRC season
|Rally||Overall pos.||JWRC pos.||Class stage wins||Gap to winner|
|Arctic Rally Finland||28th||N/A||8||-2m16.6s|
DF: It was a wonderful, hard-fought victory. You’re the youngest JWRC Champion, enjoy yourself
SP: Thank you so much.
Name: Sami Pajari
Birthday: December 1, 2001
2021: Junior WRC champion (2 wins, 26 stage wins, 137 points), Arctic Rally Finland winner – RC4 class, currently 3rd in European Rally Championship-3 (1 win, 13 stage wins, 93pts), currently 2nd in ERC3 Junior (1 win, 16 stage wins, 114pts), 10th in Finnish Rally Championship – SM3 (1 win, 3 stage wins, 25pts)
2020: 3rd in JWRC (20 stage wins, 66pts), 2nd in FREC – SM3 class (2 wins, 11 stage wins, 94.5pts), 4th in South Estonia Rally – EMV3
2019: FRC Champion – SM3 (1 win, 7 stage wins, 108pts), 17th in JWRC (2 stage wins, 2pts)
2018: Nuorten Cup winner (3 wins, 75pts), Ikaalinen Spa Rally winner – Class 6, 4th in Lammi Rally, 6th in Baltic Rally Trophy – ERT3 (2 stage wins, 28pts)
2017: Neliöx Rallysprint winner – Youth class, Kaasujalka Rally winner – Class 6, Riihivuori Rally winner – Class 6, XEROX Ralli Cat winner – Class 10, Peurunka Rally winner – Class 16
Were you impressed by Pajari’s JWRC campaign? Think he will be the next big Finn in rallying? Leave your thoughts in the comments box below