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Sami Pajari leads the FIA Junior WRC field on Rally Spain after a dramatic Saturday that saw two championship contenders deliver critical blows to their chances of challenging Pajari for the biggest prize in rallying.

Pajari started the day 16 seconds behind Jon Armstrong and emerged in the lead after the day’s opening stage when Armstrong missed a braking point in fog, going off the road, beaching his Fiesta Rally4. The Northern Irishman was able to get back on the road, but lost over five minutes, relinquishing his lead and championship hopes, falling to fourth in the classification. Armstrong had no option but to push in every stage from that point onward setting some blistering times until his day came to a sudden and abrupt end on stage 11, hitting a drain and damaging his steering.

Pajari’s morning was largely uneventful, settling into a relaxed and steady rhythm after stage seven ending the morning loop with a lead of more than 20 seconds. Pajari did suffer a puncture on stage ten, losing 32 seconds to Lauri Joona, emerging from the stage in the lead but only by 6.2 seconds. Pajari would end the day with the Junior WRC lead and more importantly, in prime position to become the first Finnish champion in Junior WRC history.

Martins Sesks’ rally went from bad to worse on Saturday, retiring on the second stage of the day after suffering a puncture which sent his Fiesta Rally4 hurtling off the road ending his day. The Latvian will restart the rally on Sunday.

Joona was able to chip away at Pajari’s lead closing to within two seconds of him, he could only manage fourth on the penultimate stage of the day. The short blast through Salou on stage 13 saw Joona lose a further 0.5 seconds to Pajari, closing the day in second and 16.2 seconds down.

Robert Virves is set for a podium position on Rally Spain, he was in contention to take his maiden Junior WRC victory at one point on Saturday, taking a healthy amount of time out of Pajari’s lead until a puncture on stage ten lost him over a minute. The Estonian did pick up the most stage wins of anybody on Saturday with a total of four, ending the day third and 50 seconds adrift of Pajari.

William Creighton joined the Wolf Stage Win Points party on Rally Spain thanks to a well measured drive on stage 12, rebounding from a disappointing opening day. Following the Armstrong and Sesks dramas, Creighton found himself fourth at the conclusion of Saturday.

Maciej Woda, FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager, said: “It has been an extremely dramatic day for Junior WRC today, but Sami Pajari has proven himself so far to be a headline act and is on the brink of making history. The first two stages were a bit of a rollercoaster with Jon and Martins both experiencing difficulties. Jon was able to get back on the road and he looked determined to mount an ambitious fight back with some blistering stage times. Jon’s luck ultimately ran out, but I have to say I have full respect for him hitting the stages hard and not leaving anything on the table. This is rallying and sometimes you must take risks like Jon did, for better or worse. It hasn’t been an easy day for Sami either, Lauri was really breathing down his neck at one point and he did also have a puncture which is never easy to deal with but he has put on a display of incredible maturity today.”

Sami Pajari, FIA Junior WRC Rally Leader, said: “Really eventful day, at the moment it looks good for me but I think it’s still a long day tomorrow and anything can happen like we have seen today. I just tried to have a stable pace and not take any stupid risks but we still had a puncture so anything can happen. I think that I should be able to keep the same pace tomorrow and I hope it will be enough and I hope we can have a Finnish one-two.”