Sami Pajari claimed victory on Rally de Portugal after a difficult run of 21 special stages on some of Portugal’s roughest roads. It is Pajari’s third victory of his career and co-driver Enni Malkonen’s first ever Junior WRC victory.
The Finn’s rally got off to a troublesome start with a puncture on Friday morning in which he lost almost 90 seconds. From there, the Finn regrouped and began delivering well-measured and mature drives to keep himself in contention while others around him faltered. Pajari notched up an impressive six Wolf Stage Win points throughout the rally too, providing a much-needed shot in the arm for his championship hopes which sees him sitting third after three rounds of the FIA Junior WRC Championship.
William Creighton found himself in contention for another podium spot on Friday, but after the second pass of the Gois stage, he was forced to retire for the day after puncturing a tyre with no more spares remaining. The Irishman hit the ground running again on Saturday, finding himself in fifth overall and picked up a Wolf Stage Win Point on the first pass of the Amarante stage. Creighton’s weekend came to an abrupt and disappointing end on Sunday on stage 19 after hitting a kerb and damaging his suspension beyond repair, resulting in him retiring from the rally.
Jon Armstrong got off to a great start in the opening stages of the rally, taking an early lead that stretched to over a minute by the end of stage six. After a treacherous second pass of the Arganil stage Armstrong’s fortunes change, suffering mechanical damage, forcing an early retirement for the day. Armstrong hit back on Saturday to take four Wolf Stage Win points from seven stages, ending the day in fifth. On Sunday Armstrong couldn’t initially match the pace of rival Robert Virves but in the closing stages was able to reel off another two stage wins to deliver a total of eight Wolf Stage Win Points for the rally.
Robert Virves took the opening stage win on the Coimbra super special stage but had a troublesome Friday that some him lose a lot of ground to the fight at the front. The Estonian put on a good show of speed on Saturday, narrowly missing out on stage win points on more than one occasion, until the final super special blast on the streets of Porto, claiming a stage win and going 11th fastest overall. Running third, Virves headed into Sunday with confidence and speed, adding another two Wolf Stage Win Points to his name and claiming another Junior WRC podium finish.
Croatia Rally winner Lauri Joona claimed second position on Rally de Portugal and is now the only Junior WRC driver to finish on the podium on every round of the 2022 season so far. Keeping a sensible pace, Joona picked up a Wolf Stage Win point on the second pass of Amarante on Saturday, arguably the toughest speed test of the rally.
Kenya’s McRae Kimathi had a very difficult rally despite at one point running as high as third in Junior WRC during the eighth stage of the rally until he an accident on the same stage stopped him in his tracks. The Kenyan barely covered any mileage on Saturday due to a mechanical retirement and was able to complete Sunday’s stages and finish a well-deserved fifth in Junior WRC.
Maciej Woda, FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager, said: “This has been one incredibly tough rally but also a rewarding on to those who have finished. Huge congratulations to Sami on his victory in Portugal and also to Enni on her first ever Junior WRC victory! It has been a very difficult start to the season for the crew and to see them winning showing so much speed all year is great. It has been quite a battle in terms of Wolf Stage Win Points on this rally with five out of six crews claiming stage winning pace which was exciting to see! It has really helped to bring the championship alive too as Jon Armstrong only leads Lauri Joona by one point and both Sami Pajari and Robert Virves are right up there in the hunt as well.”
Sami Pajari, FIA Junior WRC Rally Winner, said: “It has been a really difficult weekend, even now on the last stage I wasn’t pushing but there were still some small moments surprising me a bit. There has been some excitement for me all the way to the finish line, now it looks quite good again so I really need to be satisfied with this result.”