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Pajari holds out to make Rally1 debut at home

Rising talent Sami Pajari will now make his first top-level FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) start on home soil at Secto Rally Finland.

Photo: WRC
Photo: WRC

Pajari, 22, had been scheduled to debut a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 in Latvia next month, but a shuffle in Toyota GAZOO Racing’s driver line-up has altered those plans.

Eight-time WRC champion Sébastien Ogier will now drive the team’s fourth GR Yaris car in Latvia, joining Elfyn Evans, Kalle Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta for the all-new event. As a result, Pajari’s will make maiden top-flight appearance in Finland in August.

Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala explained how the decision aimed to provide Pajari with optimal preparation for his debut while also maintaining focus on the manufacturers’ championship title race, in which the Japanese marque currently trails Hyundai by 13 points. Evans currently holds third in the drivers’ series while Hyundai men Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak lock out the top two positions.

“We are strongly committed to developing young drivers for the future, and also to maximising our results in the present,” the Finn explained. “This is why we will still bring four cars to Latvia and now take the opportunity to have Sébastien there alongside Kalle, Elfyn and Takamoto. Seb has been very strong so far this year and, with the championship being so tight, we want to bring all the strength and experience we have to keep up the fight.

“I think it always helps [Sami] to get into a new car on roads that you know well, and if we consider that his chance to test the car was always going to be on Finnish roads, this will now be strong preparation for Rally Finland. So, we believe this is another suitable opportunity for Sami to drive our Rally1 car, and it’s also going to be a great thing for his fans and the event itself.

“Still, as we said previously, we won’t be putting any pressure or expectation upon him in terms of result: we just want to see him adapt to the car and try to gain as much experience as possible,” he added.

Pajari admitted that the prospect of competing on his home roads in top-level machinery is ‘even more special’, saying: “Latvia would have been a new rally for everyone and an equal start for me in a way, but in Finland of course I know the stages generally very well and our testing will be in Finland, so to have that chance to prepare the car on roads that are very similar to the rally will be a good help for me.

“It’s even nicer to have this chance in Finland and I’m extremely looking forward to the event. To drive this car on those stages will be something really cool and also really demanding. Of course, I will try to enjoy it too because it’s like a dream come true, but the main target is just to gain the experience. I’m really excited for it.”

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