Is Toyota’s new star ready for the big time?

A WRC2 title run in his Printsport-run Toyota could put Sami Pajari on the cusp of Rally1 promotion


In a championship that’s lost its long-time protagonist, a horde of drivers are ready to step up and take their place.

Andreas Mikkelsen, a thorn in the side of every young driver trying to stake a claim to the World Rally Championship’s second-tier crown, has finally returned to the top level. The shop window is well and truly open.

For Sami Pajari, that’s great news. It’s a chance to prove that he deserves a factory seat at the top level; Toyota is no doubt watching his progress closely.

Pajari has already impressed on his step up to WRC2 level. Many before him struggled with the switch from Junior WRC to WRC2 but a win in Finland, plus podiums in Sweden, Estonia and Chile, suggest he’s already got Rally2 licked.

CapitalBox _ Joakim Honkasalo

Pajari will drive for the Finnish Printsport Racing Team in 2024

He surely must be considered a contender for the WRC2 title this year?

“It’s not so easy to say,” Pajari tells DirtFish. “I would just make more pressure on my shoulders if I say that I really need to win the championship because it would depend on so many things that, even if we do all our job correctly, there can still be something that can take your championship win from you.

“I try to focus more on one event at a time. So of course every event I will absolutely do my best. But still I will try to focus on getting better in all areas and then the championship will come – but not taking too much stress.”

This somewhat explains his decision to rock up to the season opener, the Monte Carlo Rally, without being registered for WRC2 points. His season properly begins in Sweden, the first time in 2024 that he’ll be scoring points for his championship effort.

A first rally with a new car, the newly homologated Toyota GR Yaris Rally2, means there’s learning to do. This, presumably, factors into his call to enter the Monte without the pressure of contributing to his points tally.

“Yes,” replies Pajari. “But I also think now, once you have the start list from Monte and Sweden, I guess in Sweden the competition will be even tougher; there are more names that you can really expect to fight for the podium steps.

“So maybe if you wanted some safe, good points, maybe you can cruise through Monte and get some quite solid points. Or even more easily than in Sweden. But I think it’s a nice way to start the season, with a little bit less stress and get some miles with the new car.”

Oinasneva Design 6

Pajari's GR Yaris Rally2 livery

How competitive the Yaris Rally2 will be compared to the benchmark Pajari has just left behind, the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, remains to be seen. But Pajari feels confident his new steed is already at the races; between a Monte test in December, a Sweden test held in Finland last week, plus an outing at Rallye National Hivernal du Dévoluy as a course car, he’s had the chance to compare the two.

“All the cars are a bit different,” he says. “There are always some specific things about each car but for sure, the Skoda was really a proper car, a really good one. With my experience, I could see already that the Toyota feels really good and easy to drive and really logical. Even the very first time, it was easy to just jump into the car and felt really good and comfortable already from the first kilometers.”

Monte will represent an interesting benchmark, for both Pajari and the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1. With no results-driven pressure to worry about, Pajari can settle in and get more comfortable for the mission ahead.

Mikkelsen’s Rally1 shift doesn’t change Škoda being the benchmark for WRC2 honours: Oliver Solberg, Gus Greensmith and Pierre-Louis Loubet in Toksport-run Fabias will be a tricky trio to usurp. But if Pajari can do exactly that, it’s surely a matter of time before a different flavor of GR Yaris beckons for him.