Sami Pajari, 19, looks set to join the long list of Finnish rallying talents.
I first met Sami Pajari on the 2019 Rally Finland, his World Rally Championship debut. Specifically, the Junior WRC, in a one-off appearance for winning the Future Star competition run by Finland’s renowned AKK motorsport federation.
Pajari was gangly to the point that his overalls hung off him like a wing suit, with buck teeth and an endearing smile that was impossible to wipe off. His English was extremely limited, but enough for him to make his intentions clear.
He was straight into the top six in his class, despite never having competed at that level before, and set two fastest stage times – one of them by more than 10 seconds. He later retired in one of those barrel-rolling accidents that could only happen in Finland. But he was still smiling, even after a quick trip to hospital.
As one seasoned Finnish observer put it, this sort of speed was reminiscent of the young Juha Kankkunen. Pajari doesn’t come from a privileged background (hence the badly fitting overalls) and was studying to become an electrician. Now that plan has happily been shelved, because two years later he has just become the youngest-everJunior WRC champion at the age of 19, inheriting the mantle of legends like Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier.
He also has overalls that fit him now, muscles underneath them and a more fluent command of English. This is the evolution of the species when it comes to rally driving. However, Pajari doesn’t see himself as anything too special. “Already there are drivers like Kalle Rovanperä and Oliver Solberg who aren’t much older than me, so it’s not a big deal,” he says.
Pajari is actually only a year or two behind them. Next season, he will step up either to the factory-backed WRC2 category (perhaps with the help of M-Sport Ford, which is looking for its next front runner in the class, following works driver Adrien Fourmaux) or WRC3 as a privateer – thanks to the prize of a Rally2-spec Ford Fiesta, five free WRC2entries and 200 free tyres.
If Pajari does a good job there, we will probably see him with a few selected World Rally Car outings in 2023 (at the age of 21), which could be enough for a full-time ride in 2024 at the age of 22. By then, top-tier rallying’s new hybrid era will have hit its stride, so maybe all his knowledge of plugs and wiring will come in handy, after all.