The third round of the FIA Junior WRC season set off on the Italian island of Sardinia on Friday. Then second in championship points classification, Sami Pajari and Marko Salminen started the event with the goal of finishing higher than in the first rally of the season in Sweden where the pair finished fourth. Full of confidence the two headed out to tackle the challenging 16 special stages of Rally Sardinia which would put the durability of the men and the car to test.
The rally started on Friday in a dramatic fashion when four of the seven JWRC competitors had already retired after the first four stages. One of the retirees being the championship leader Martins Sesks from Latvia who suffered a driveshaft failure on the fourth stage. When arriving to the overnight service after two more stages, Pajari held second place after rally leader Tom Kristensson. The Swede had retired in the previous round in Estonia which meant his only hopes for the championship hung in claiming the victory on Sardinian soil. Pajari in turn could take a safer approach nursing the car through the stages, especially after small power steering issues on the penultimate stage of the first day. 50 seconds separated Pajari and Kristensson when heading into the second day on the Mediterranean island.
“We managed to set two fastest times and I learnt much more about how to drive these roads here. We had some power steering issues on the fifth stage and had to cycle power twice to reset fault modes, but in the big picture that didn’t really matter. Overall I’m satisfied.” Pajari summed up the first day of the rally.
During the overnight service all the cars competing in JWRC had been fixed and were ready to start the second day consisting of six special special, two of which had already been driven on Friday. However, luck turned its back on the Finns when already the first stage of the day saw Sami Pajari and Marko Salminen retire due to the driveshaft breaking down after only a kilometer into the stage. Consequently, Pajari’s rally would not continue until re-starting on Sunday morning and with an extra gap of 60 minutes added to the lead and dropping him down to the sixth place.
“Now the only target for Sunday is to drive as many fastest times as possible to gain a few extra points”, Pajari decided for the final day of the event.
The once already retired Latvian, Sesks, had set the same goal for Saturday and collected all but one of the points available that day with his five fastest times. Kristensson in turn could play it safe after Pajari’s retirement and at the end of day had already a gap of 9 minutes ahead of the second in class Fabrizio Zaldivar from Paraguay, who in turn was a safe 20 minutes ahead of Sesks.
Sunday was set to consist of four special stages in two loops and Pajari started the day in good spirits clocking the quickest times on both stages on the first loop of the day. The second loop started with a small disappointment when the third stage of the day was cancelled for JWRC competitors due to a driver going off the road in a previous class and thus no points were on offer for the stage. On the final stage of the rally Pajari left no speed in the bag and again set the fastest time, claiming all the available stage points of the day. Pajari and Salminen finished the rally in fifth place, just shy of the fourth in Sweden, and altogether collected 15 championship points from Sardinia.
After the last stage co-driver Salminen thought “it was a miracle the car could take all the battering, that’s just how fast we came through the stage”. The point-hungry Pajari continued “it was indeed good speed we were able to show today, especially after the disappointing Saturday. We learned many important things here. Now it’s time for some pizza and gelato!”
Before the final FIA Junior WRC event of the season in Belgium, Pajari is third in the championship with 54 points. Ahead of him are Kristensson with 58 points and Sesks with 68 points. As the Ypres Rally has both increased points and altogether 23 special stage points on offer, the finale of the season is to offer an exciting rally with the JWRC championship still fully undecided between the top three candidates. In order to fully prepare for the tarmac roads and conditions awaiting in Ypres, Pajari and Salminen will compete in another event in Belgium, the Hemicuda Rally by the North Sea, in just two weeks time.
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