Sami Pajari leads Junior WRC following a hotly contested day of action in Croatia that saw the Juniors put on some truly giant killing performances while the lead changed hands multiple times between Pajari and Robert Virves.
Jon Armstrong took the opening stage win of the day on stage ten following the cancellation of stage nine. His day ended abruptly on the road section between stage ten and eleven, retiring his car due to a fuel leak.
McRae Kimathi has continued to capture the imagination and inspiration of many around the service park by continuing to maintain his fifth position on Croatia Rally and finishing every stage. The Kenyan is experiencing asphalt rallying for the first time and just like on Rally Sweden has put in measured drives to build and develop his experience.
Finnish hard charger Lauri Joona continued to hold his third position on the second day of Croatia Rally. The Finn seemed to fade away from the fight at the front, unable to find an answer to the incredible pace on show by Virves and Pajari. Despite falling away from the fight at the front, Joona is holding a strong overall position in 18th, beating many WRC2 competitors.
The fight for overall honours in Junior WRC intensified on Saturday when it was expected Pajari would begin to pull away from Estonian Virves.
Pajari initially increased his slender half a second margin to 4.2 seconds following a stage win on stage 11 when the Finn went eighth overall on the time sheets for the stage – faster than any other WRC2 competitor. Virves responded on the final stage of the loop to reduce Pajari’s advantage to 2.9 seconds.
After the midday service on Saturday, Virves started on the offensive, delivering a time strong enough to put him within half a second on Pajari as the pressure began to mount.
Pajari claimed another Wolf Stage Win Point on stage 14 to increase his margin slightly to 2.1 seconds with all eyes on Virves and the final stage of the day to see if he could leapfrog Pajari and take the lead.
In the closing moments of the stage Virves began to haemorrhage time, losing over 47 seconds to Pajari as the Estonian suffered a puncture, destroying any realistic hopes of him ending the day on top.
The pace of the Junior WRC crews has been on another level so far on Croatia Rally with Pajari currently sitting 14th overall. A total of three crews are positioned comfortably inside the top 20 of the entire WRC field with four stages remaining.
Maciej Woda, FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager, said: “We have had a historic day in Junior WRC today with some epic performances that I think will go down in history! The pace of Sami Pajari on stage 11 was incredible to for a Rally3 car to go eighth fastest on a WRC stage is a very special moment for the championship. We had a really great battle today between Sami and Robert too, and it was great to see Robert responding to Sami’s times and not let him run away with it. It was a shame to see Robert get the puncture on the last stage but there is still a long way to go yet. There are four more stages left to run and rallying is a very unpredictable sport which is what makes it so exciting. We have three cars inside the top 20 of the entire WRC field right now with Sami Pajari ahead in 14th which I think will be talked about a lot in years to come.”
Sami Pajari, FIA Junior WRC Rally Leader, said: “We had a good day today and lead Junior WRC, but there is still a long way to go tomorrow where anything can still happen. For now we are feeling good.”