Pajari to drive fourth factory Toyota in Latvia

WRC2 star will step up to join Toyota’s factory team at next month’s high-speed Baltic event


Rising Finnish star Sami Pajari will make his debut at the highest level of the World Rally Championship when he drives a factory Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 at next month’s Rally Latvia.

The 22-year-old’s arrival in a Yaris Rally1, which had been on the cards since he switched from Škoda to Toyota for his WRC2 program at the end of last season, was announced on Thursday. He and co-driver Enni Mälkönen will test the car ahead of an event which is also making its debut at the sport’s highest level.

Talking about his entry in a fourth works Yaris alongside Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Katsuta and Kalle Rovanperä, Pajari said: “It feels amazing to have this opportunity with Toyota Gazoo Racing. This is something that I have been working towards for many years, but it’s not so often that there is a seat available in a Rally1 car.”

Having driven his GR Yaris Rally2 to three top-10 finishes (including a WRC2 win and sixth overall in Sardinia) Pajari feels ready for the step up, but admits it won’t be easy.

“It will be a huge challenge,” he added. “There are so many new things to learn, and the pace at the top level is also really high. But I will try to not focus on the result too much or feel any pressure on that side, and just aim to enjoy and gain all the experience I can for the future.

Sami Pajari, Enni Mälkönen

Pajari and Mälkönen took WRC2 silverware and an exceptional sixth overall in Sardinia

“At least in Latvia the stages are mostly fast and flowing, something I’m quite used to from Finland, and it’s also basically a fresh event for everyone, so in this sense we are more or less starting from the same place as the top drivers.”

Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala admitted he’d been monitoring Pajari’s progress for a while.

“This year,” he said, “we’ve seen that Sami Pajari is driving really well with our GR Yaris Rally2 and we would like to see his potential in our Rally1 car.

“Sami has been making big steps and getting better results, with a magnificent weekend in Sardinia. He’s not only showing great speed but also providing our engineers with the feedback that help us make an ever-better car for all our customers.”



Toyota team principal Latvala is impressed with Pajari's speed and feedback

Latvala added the Liepaja-based event makes sense, given its similarities to home – but also for the chance to deploy the full force of the Rally1 car’s downforce.

He said: “Rally Latvia is a fast and flowing event like Rally Finland and Sami also likes the roads in the Baltic region, so they suit him well and should help him feel more at home. It’s also on fast roads like these that you can really feel and understand how the aerodynamics of a Rally1 car are working. So we hope that Sami and Enni can gain some nice experience there and learn about the car and the step up from Rally2.”

While Pajari’s not focusing on the result in Latvia, he already has an eye to future Rally1 outings. He added: “I hope that, if we can do well, then maybe there can be a chance for something nice in the future, but that’s something I can only think about much later. For now, I’ll just focus on this one rally and enjoy it.”

Rally Latvia runs from July 18-21.