Why title defeat hasn’t floored this youngster

He may have missed out on a Junior WRC title, but there's plenty for Sami Pajari to be optimistic abuot

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WRC2. If you’re an aspiring World Rally Championship driver, it quite simply is the place you need to be. Particularly nowadays with the influx of ex-works drivers and entries regularly exceeding 30 cars.

There are several avenues in – all associated with a thick enough wallet – but there’s one route that holds the freest pass a driver will ever get. 

Junior WRC. 

Win that and you’ve bagged yourself four fully-paid for European events in a Ford Fiesta Rally2, plus 200 Pirelli tires to play with.

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It’s quite the prize haul. But it’s no free gift, it needs to be earned. And despite leading the championship heading into the finale, it was Robert Virves, not the incumbent champion Sami Pajari, that went home feeling like Christmas had come early.

“I think it’s always frustrating if you have the chance for the championship and then you don’t reach what you were aiming for. Maybe you are a bit frustrated or disappointed, but always it is a bit of a shame,” Pajari admits to DirtFish.

But you’ll notice that this isn’t the language of a broken man. Despite the obvious disappointment at missing out on a world title and the spoils that went with it, there’s genuinely plenty for Pajari to be happy about in his world.

“It’s a bit of mixed feelings,” he says, “but still life goes on and I think we will still maybe find some plan for next year.”

That plan? WRC2.

With Pajari and the team around him, there’s always a plan.

For all the talk of how Kajetan Kajetanowicz has carefully crafted his battleplan to win WRC2 this year, Pajari’s entire career has been a tactical masterstroke.

That first came to the fore last season when Pajari took the unusual step of defending the Junior WRC title he won last year, of course unsuccessfully. Faced with the opportunity to drive a Rally3 or Rally2 Fiesta in 2022, most would’ve been lured into driving the more powerful version.

But, then just 19 years old, time wasn’t exactly an enemy for Pajari. In what was his first year in a four-wheel-drive car (Junior WRC switched from front-wheel-drive Rally4 to four-wheel-drive Rally3 in the off-season) Pajari elected to walk before he could run.

“For sure that was the main thing for this year – to learn the four-wheel-drive,” he says, “and I still think we did the right choice about the prize we won last year with the championship. 

“We took the Rally3 option but that meant that we could do much more rallies like we did now these five or six rallies with the Rally3 and some few rallies more with the Rally2. 

“We got so many rallies more and that means much more experience and many, many good things, so I still think it was so far quite a good plan and so far it’s going still let’s say according to the plan.”

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Missing the Junior WRC title? “Of course it would have been really nice and then it would automatically give you some plan or some idea what to do next year, whereas now it’s still quite open”.

But it did nothing to affect that all-important plan. Pajari already has the Junior WRC title on his CV and he has a strong management team. Toyota’s team boss (who also happens to be the WRC’s most experienced driver) giving him a public endorsement was hardly a bad thing either.

No matter what, WRC3 will be swapped for WRC2 next to Pajari’s name on 2023 entry lists.

Asked how realistic WRC2 is for him next year, Pajari says: “Yeah, I think it is possible to do, but it’s only a question about the amount of rallies we can do. 

“That’s the only thing, because we would like to go forwards with my career and I think that’s just something we need to do now, and that’s the only logical thing. 

“So we need to step up to WRC2, but just now it’s only a question about let’s say mainly about the money, how much we can collect and how many rallies we’ll need, so that’s the only thing.”

Pajari has already driven two WRC2 events in his career this year in a Toksport Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo – finishing a strong fifth in Sardinia and 10th in Finland, but he was third in class before breaking his suspension.

He’ll be out on next month’s Rally Spain for his first taste of a Rally2 car on asphalt too, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be within the Toksport stable next season.

 

“It’s so difficult to say at the moment, because I have had such a good time for many years with M-Sport, and OK also Škoda and Toksport was really good for us with these few rallies, so it’s way too early to say anything I would say. 

“And on the market there is for sure also many other good teams, so for sure it will be a difficult choice to make and it depends on so many things. But luckily we still have a lot of time before next season will start.”

As Pajari has already proved, he is no rush. He doesn’t believe he needs to be winning in 2023, admitting “of course it always helps us the better you can perform” but his main priority is securing a multi-year agreement in the WRC’s second tier.

He doesn’t want to force his way into the reckoning for any works manufacturer drives at the very top of the WRC without feeling ready first.

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“I would be really happy to have the WRC2 drive now for some seasons and then maybe Rally1 after that,” he says. 

“It [Rally1] will still be a few years, but maybe at some point.”

No 2022 Junior WRC championship title is clearly no disaster for Pajari. Junior accolades quickly become irrelevant once a driver climbs onto the next rung of the ladder, and Pajari is looking very capable of climbing all the way.

Words:Luke Barry

Photography:Junior WRC

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