Pajari will defend Junior WRC crown

Last year's Junior WRC champion stays on to defend his title, as Jon Armstrong and more 2021 rivals also commit again


Eight drivers will compete for the 2022 Junior WRC crown in the championship’s first year as a four-wheel-drive category, with the reigning champion Sami Pajari staying on to defend his crown.

No incumbent champion has remained in Junior WRC to defend their title since Patrik Sandell in 2007, though 15 years later the situation is somewhat different.

Pajari, who had the option of choosing between a free Ford Fiesta Rally2 but no event support, or a fully-supported package of events in a Fiesta Rally3, has chosen the latter, in part because it still represents a step up from the two-wheel-drive Fiesta Rally4 used in last year’s Junior WRC.

He’s not the only returnee either. Jon Armstrong, who fought with Pajari for last year’s title until the final round, is also back.

Both have new navigators for 2022 – Enni Mälkönen replacing Marko Salminen and Brian Hoy replacing Phil Hall respectively – and both have a small amount of prior four-wheel-drive experience.

Armstrong has competed at WRC2 level twice in a Fiesta R5, a prize drive for two victories scored in the Drive DMACK Cup back in 2016. Pajari, meanwhile, has a head-start on the rest of the 2022 field, having competed in and won the WRC3 class on the Monte Carlo Rally earlier this month.

That said, Armstrong isn’t a total stranger to the new car either: he made a debut Rally3 outing on last year’s Rally Poland, a round of the European Rally Championship.


There are more returnees with a shot at upsetting the apple cart.

A driver making their return to the M-Sport fold is Jean-Baptiste Franceschi, who last competed in the Junior WRC back in 2018 with backing from the French motorsport federation FFSA.

Franceschi secured a comeback to the series thanks to a prize-winning season in the ERC3 Junior series last year, pipping Pajari to that title at the season finale, driving a Toksport-prepared Renault Clio Rally4.

Lauri Joona, who was picked for the Flying Finn Future Star award in 2020 ahead of Pajari, described the move up to four-wheel-drive as a “big upgrade” compared to the Rally4 car used last season. Nonetheless, he was still name-checked by Pajari as his biggest rival in Sweden, who expects his compatriot “will be really good” this year.


Robert Virves, an Estonian junior champion, has also returned to the fray, as has reigning BRC Junior champion William Creighton.

Two new drivers will join the Junior WRC ranks in Sweden: Kenya’s McRae Kimathi and Panagiotis Roustemis from Greece.

Kimathi is another driver to have sampled the Fiesta Rally3 in competition before the new season, having won the African Junior title last year driving one.

There’s also a weight of expectation on his young shoulders. Aside from a given name that foreshadowed rallying becoming his career of choice, his father Phineas Kimathi is one of the most important figures in African rallying, acting as both president of the Kenya Motorsport Federation and as CEO for the Safari Rally.


Roustemis meanwhile fancies himself as something of a dark horse despite his status as a Junior WRC debutant.

This will mark his first venture outside his native Greece, though not his first WRC start: he competed on Acropolis Rally Greece last year in a Citroën DS3 R5 and came fifth in WRC3.

Thanks to his experience of competing with both R5 and Group N cars – he won his domestic Group N title in 2020 – Roustemis suspects his past rally experience may help him this year. But he also has an unusual ace up his sleeve.

“I believe it is the best opportunity for me to participate this year because I have experience of four-wheel drive rally cars,” said Roustemis.

“My big advantage as a Greek driver is the last rally in championship which is Acropolis Rally Greece with double points on offer.”

There are five Junior WRC rounds this year, starting with Sweden in February on snow. The only asphalt round of the season will be held in Croatia in April, followed by a trio of gravel events in Portugal, Estonia and Greece.