Sami Pajari has claimed a historic Junior WRC victory on Rally Estonia, the first victory of his Junior WRC career and the first Finnish victory in Junior WRC since 2013.
Rally Estonia offered up a great challenge for this year’s FIA Junior WRC crews who all put on a strong showing with competitive pace. The stages were a mix of tight and technical sections with others mainly consisting of fast corners and blind crests as well as Estonia’s notorious man-made jumps.
A nail-biting fight for second played out throughout the rally between Jon Armstrong, Martin Koci and Martins Sesks with the three drivers separated by tenths of seconds at numerous points of the rally.
Koci didn’t take any stage wins on Friday, but the Slovakian was by no means uncompetitive, posting top-three times and ended the day in third after tussling with Armstrong over second. He started Saturday by claiming three Wolf Stage Win Points in a row on the opening loop, to pass Armstrong for second position which he held onto heading into Sunday. Second, third and fourth were separated by just six seconds at the start of Sunday’s stages with Koci second. By the midpoint of the day Koci was holding a strong third but disaster struck on the Wolf Power Stage with the Slovakian suffering a driveshaft failure and retiring from the rally 3km from the finish.
Sesks made a difficult start to the rally, struggling for pace ending the opening day in fourth. Martins Sesks’ Saturday saw Sesks’ pace improve and close in on the top-three setting up a perfect fight for second on Sunday. He started Sunday with promising pace and was close to catching a second-placed Armstrong by the middle of the day. His day appeared to come unravelled on stage 22 though, losing over 40 seconds after bending his steering and rescinding third position. He pushed hard on the penultimate stage to close within 8.8 seconds of third and following Koci’s shock retirement on the final stage, inherited the position while claiming the final Wolf Stage Win Point of the rally.
Armstrong had a slow start on Friday, losing a lot of time to Pajari early on, but surged up the timesheets on SS5 and was the only driver to deny Pajari a stage win on Friday. He kept his stage-winning momentum for the second loop and continued to chip away at Pajari’s lead. On Saturday Armstrong struggled with grip, losing time on the first four stages, in the afternoon he was back on form claiming the first stage win of the loop on SS15, closing the gap to Koci in second place. Armstrong started Sunday almost 40 seconds down from Pajari in third but moved to second after the first stage of the day after claiming a Wolf Stage Win Point. He would continue to build a gap to third place and claim an additional stage win before getting to the end of the rally, reducing Pajari’s lead to 25 seconds.
Pajari was in a league of his own throughout Rally Estonia, pushing an advantage with ease at the start of the rally and managing it from there with exemplary maturity. Estonia is Pajari’s first Junior WRC victory which has been a long time coming ever since his impressive debut on Rally Finland in 2019. In total the Finn claimed nine Wolf Stage Win Points on Rally Estonia, the second time he has reached this number in 2021 after scoring nine on Croatia Rally.
Pajari now leads the championship with 71 points and two rounds remaining. Martins Sesks has dropped to second with 67 points while Jon Armstrong lies third with 56 markers. Junior WRC crews completing all five rounds of the championship will be able to drop their worst classification points score. For those competing in three rounds or more before the final round of the season will qualify for double points on Rally Spain meaning the championship fight is far from over.
William Creighton took on a totally new challenge having never experienced roads like Rally Estonia, he delivered consistent and clean stage times to finish sixth overall. Robert Virves had a very difficult rally with a multitude of setbacks preventing him from settling into a rhythm, ultimately the Estonian was only able to claim seventh. Raul Badiu needed a strong points-finish on Rally Estonia after no points on Portugal and four classification points from Croatia Rally. The Romanian delivered fifth place and ten classification points to help his championship cause after a trouble free and consistent rally. Lauri Joona admitted to be struggling to match the front-running pace at numerous points of Rally Estonia, he claimed a lonely fourth position by conclusion of Sunday but with it a significant amount of championship points.
Maciej Woda, FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager: “What an amazing day for Finnish rally fans today! It’s quite special to see Sami take his first ever Junior WRC victory on Rally Estonia, less than two years since his first ever Junior WRC event on Rally Finland in 2019. It was quite clear from his appearance then that he was destined to deliver some great results and from his pace this year and this result he is now a true championship contender. Another exceptional performance on Rally Estonia must be Jon Armstrong. It’s very rare for a British driver to out-perform Scandinavian and Baltic drivers in their own territory which Jon has done, like Sami he has demonstrated fast times on every round this season making the championship very exciting. Martin Koci put in an incredible fight on this rally with impressive speed which he has shown on every round so far, to retire so close to the finish from third is bitterly disappointing for all of us and I want to apologise for how it happened. I know Martin has the talent and I think he is a definite contender for the title still. Overall, I am very proud of the speed and quality of all the Junior WRC crews on Rally Estonia, they fought very hard well throughout the entire rally. I’d like to finish with a huge thank you to the organisers of Rally Estonia, this event is a really great rally and is really pushing the boundaries of what organisers are capable of.”
- Sami Pajari / Marko Salminen
“There’s not many words that I can find at this moment, I’m just super grateful and happy to win here. The last stage was in a bad condition and I was worried that we were going to get stuck so I’m just relieved to reach the finish.”
- Jon Armstrong / Phil Hall
“Coming into this event I said I’d be happy with a podium so target achieved, second place is really good. It could have been even closer, we had some issues along the way but so did Sesks. It was a good steady rally with good pace but we stayed out of trouble when we needed to. Any issues we had we just stayed calm and got through to the finish.”
- Martins Sesks / Renars Francis
“On the last stage I was pushing like mad, we were 13.3 seconds faster on the first split but it was very risky. I think we were on two wheels two times, we were going with it and pushing as hard as I can. At the end with everything that happened it was a nice ending.”
- Lauri Joona / Mikael Korhonen
“It was a tough rally for us, we had technical issues and after Friday, we lost our rhythm on the stage and couldn’t push like we normally do. I think we need to be happy”
- Raul Badiu / Rares Fetean
“Not our best rally for sure but from the beginning we knew it was hard to crack the top five on pure speed because the locals are really fast here. We stayed away from trouble and had good rhythm while improving and here we are in fifth.”
- William Creighton / Liam Regan
“It was a completely different rally to what I had imagined. It takes a completely different driving style for the driver and co-driver so it was a new challenge for us, the pace maybe just wasn’t on the top boys and maybe that was to be expected. Coming back to this rally in the future we’ll be much better placed.”
- Robert Virves / Sander Pruul
“Definitely luck was missing this weekend, I think it was quite disappointing. It was hard to get a racing feeling after Friday and there was nothing special in it.”
Martin Koci / Petr Tesisnsky