Pajari debut delayed as Ogier drafted in for Latvia

WRC2 star will now make Rally1 debut in Finland as eight-time champion is set to bolster Toyota's title challenge


Sami Pajari’s maiden World Rally Championship outing in a factory Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 has been pushed back to Rally Finland, as it has reshuffled its lineup for Rally Latvia to chase down Hyundai in the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships.

WRC2 title contender Pajari was originally set to make the step up to Toyota’s works team in Latvia, a round brand new to the WRC and thus offering something of a level playing field relative to the more experienced drivers in the field.

However Toyota has elected instead to bring all four of its senior drivers – Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Katsuta, Kalle Rovanperä and additionally Sébastien Ogier, the latter of whom was not originally expected to be part of the Toyota line-up in Latvia.

Ogier has been drafted in for Latvia specifically to bolster the team’s title ambitions. The eight-time world champion has by far the highest rate of return of all Toyota’s drivers this season, averaging 23 points per rally. By comparison, Evans has managed 17.33 points per rally, Rovanperä 12 and Katsuta 8.67.

“It was not the original plan for me to be in Latvia, but the opportunity came up after analyzing together with the team the situation in both the manufacturers’ and drivers’ championships,” said Ogier.


Ogier is happy to increase his commitment as Toyota faces battle to overhaul Hyundai

“There was a desire from the team for me to do some more events and that’s something that I’ve gladly accepted. I want to give back to the team and thank them for allowing me the opportunity to continue driving with them in the way that I have done the last three years.

“I’m enjoying the season so far and the strong performances we’ve had. I’m still a competitor and I want to do my best to help my team, and to support them in keeping up the pressure in the championship fight.

“Also, I’m always excited to discover new rallies and Latvia will need new pacenotes for everyone. That’s a situation in which I’ve normally performed well in my career, so that’s also a good reason and motivation to go there.”

Toyota’s fourth car being reallocated to Ogier pushes Pajari’s debut back to his home event, Rally Finland, in the first week of August.

Though it puts Pajari on the back foot in terms of experience relative to his rivals for his debut, it does mean he’ll get to conduct plenty of running on Toyota’s designated test site, giving him additional mileage on similar roads to those he’ll compete on during his Rally1 debut.

Sebastien Ogier

Ogier enjoys the challenge of new rallies. He won Croatia's first WRC edition in 2021

Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala was keen to stress there is no pressure on Pajari to perform, especially given the 2021 Junior WRC champion’s debut will now be in front of a home crowd.

“I think it always helps to get into a new car on roads that you know well,” said Latvala. “And if we consider that his chance to test the car was always going to be on Finnish roads, this will now be strong preparation for Rally Finland. So we believe this is another suitable opportunity for Sami to drive our Rally1 car, and it’s also going to be a great thing for his fans and the event itself.

“Still, as we said previously, we won’t be putting any pressure or expectation upon him in terms of result: we just want to see him adapt to the car and try to gain as much experience as possible.

“We are strongly committed to developing young drivers for the future, and also to maximizing our results in the present: this is why we will still bring four cars to Latvia and now take the opportunity to have Sébastien there alongside Kalle, Elfyn and Takamoto. Seb has been very strong so far this year and, with the championship being so tight, we want to bring all the strength and experience we have to keep up the fight.”