Co-driver Enni Mälkönen starts WRC2 campaign with podium in Sweden
The first event of the 2023 WRC2 season took place on the snow of Sweden; co-drivers Enni Mälkönen and Reeta Hämäläinen are both fighting at the top of the class and Mälkönen, navigating Sami Pajari, claimed a podium in their first full-season WRC2 entry.
WRC2 kicked-off the 2023 season in style, with the Rally Sweden on snow and ice of Scandinavia, alongside the World Rally Championship. Among the crews on the entry list are last year's WRC2 champions Emil Lindholm and Reeta Hämäläinen, as well as WRC3 runner-up Sami Pajari and co-driver champion Enni Mälkönen - both teams with big ambitions.
While Lindholm and Hämäläinen will try to defend their title, Pajari and Mälkönen are starting their first full season in Rally2 cars.
Rally Sweden is famous for its tricky condition - with ice, and snow walls requiring every bit of the crews' concentration and skills. The shakedown was a clean one for both teams, who survived the first stage and day of the event before they went into the first full day of racing on Friday morning.
Day 1 was already drama-filled, especially for defending champions Emil Lindholm and Reeta Hämäläinen who made contact with a snow bank in SS3. The team had to stop and get all the snow out of their radiator in order to be able to continue. As a result, they lost plenty of time to leader Oliver Solberg and collected a gap of more than two and a half minutes, sitting in P11.
Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen moved up the order quickly; initially fifth, they would end the day in third place with clean runs and the first stage win of their first full-season in the WRC2 class.
Oliver Solberg was the overall leader after Friday; he continued on a strong pace and kept momentum on the path to conquer the win in Sweden.
Saturday was again all plain sailing for Solberg, who started with a 13 second gap and set fast times on the snow of Sweden. Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen followed closely, but were distracted by a flailing side window during the morning loop and lost some time after a spin which dropped them down to fourth, but the team was back in third at the end of the day.
Emil Lindholm and Reeta Hämäläinen again had a difficult day, with some light contacts here and there as they tried to recover - but continued to battle and to collect valuable experience.
On Sunday, it was another flawless performance by Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver Oliver Solberg, who comfortably sealed the first rally win of this year's WRC2 championship, ahead of Ole Christian Veiby by 42,3 seconds.
Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen came home in third place and kicked-off their 2023 campaign on a high, in their first full season in WRC2. The Finnish duo recovered from their spin on Saturday to climb on the final step of the podium.
Emil and Reeta recovered to seventh overall at the end of the rally, still collecting some points; the duo also sneaked into second place in the Wolf Power Stage to make the most out of the situation, as they try to defend their titles.
The next event of the season will take place from 16th to 19th of March at the Guanajuato Rally México: from the snow of Sweden, teams will tackle the gravel of Mexico, which will challenge the drivers with another set of skills required. Both the Finnish female co-drivers will join the contest alongside their crews.