Sami Pajari and Enni Malkönen win their first WRC2 event at Rally Finland
World Rally Championship's popular and spectacular Finnish round was all about the story of Sami Pajari and Enni Malkönen, who claimed their first ever WRC2 victory, having joined the class at the beginning of this year.
One of the most spectacular and eventful rallies took place in Finland last weekend; as local stars, female co-drivers Enni Malkönen and Reeta Hämäläinen aimed for a victory in their home race, as they navigated Sami Pajari and Emil Lindholm in the WRC2 class.
Pajari and Malkönen stormed to their first victory in WRC2 machinery, while Lindholm & Hämäläinen were haunted by bad luck already on Friday, as they dropped out of contention for the top positions.
Both duos already had great runs before the Finnish round, with Pajari & Malkönen finishing second ahead of reigning WRC2 champions Lindholm & Hämäläinen in third in Estonia, where they scored important points in their quest to defend the title. Both teams were beaten by current championship leader Andreas Mikkelsen.
But Rally Finland was all about the story of the upcoming stars, the reigning WRC3 champions Sami Pajari and co-driver Enni Malkönen.
Rally returnee Jari Huttunen was leading the early pace at the Jyväskylä-based Finnish rally after the first run on Thursday. It would be Sami & Enni to then showcase their pace to bounce back on Friday - and even jumped into the Top 6 in the overall standings before a puncture later in the day slowed their run. Huttunen was back in the lead at the end of the day.
Lindholm & Hämäläinen were forced to retire over the day with front-right suspension damage, even if they had initially managed to get going again, but eventually had to stop shortly after and withdrew from the day.
After Pajari/Malkönen fell back behind Huttunen after a puncture on Friday, the duo was back in the game on Saturday and showed great pace, recovering 10 seconds in the wet-weather opening stage. Huttunen was not sleeping either and got up to speed in a developing Finnish battle for the win.
Huttunen was held back by technical issues that forced him to retire - promoting Sami Pajari & Enni Malkönen in a comfortable lead ahead of Adrien Fourmaux just before Sunday's final day of the event. The WRC2 leaders were even holding a strong 7th place among the overall classification.
Sunday went all in Sami and Enni's favor, as they showed again great speed and smart driving to come home with their maiden WRC2 victory - and to top it all, on their home soil in Finland.
But the pair also collected a strong 7th place overall finish to underline their great performance at Rally Finland.
"There was really nothing bad about the race, it was absolutely fantastic", said Enni Malkönen. "The roads were fantastic, and it’s a shame that Huttunen dropped out; it was such a great battle", she concluded.
Adrien Fourmaux was second, ahead of Nikolay Gryazin. Emil Lindholm & Reeta Hämäläinen meanwhile topped the Power Stage to make the most out of the situation after a disappointing rally.
"On the last day we were the fastest car in our class and got the full three points from the Power Stage", Hämäläinen said. "It cheered us up even though we couldn't fight for the podium because of our retirement on Friday. Yesterday showed us that we are doing things the right way. Let's keep it up!"
Sami Pajari & Enni Malkönen are now third in the championship standings, with a gap of 11 points to class leader Mikkelsen.