After two unlucky rounds despite great pace, Enni Mälkönen navigated Sami Pajari to victory in Junior WRC at Rally Portugal. With intelligent driving on a tough course for tyres, the duo gained the lead on the first day and held it throughout the event.
It is no secret that Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen have the speed. They had previously led at the last rally until the last day of the weekend - until an unfortunate incident forced them to retire, leaving the two young Finns with heartbreak. But everything was on reset for the Portuguese round and the fast duo proved once again how good they are in their M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally3 car. On Thursday, Sami and Enni set the early pace on the streets of Portugal, but there was more drama again on Friday, with a puncture that cost them over two minutes to the leader Jon Armstrong. "Not the perfect morning for us", commented Sami Pajari. "We picked up a puncture in the previous stage and dropped to fourth overall. But that is the name of the game here in the rough conditions", he continued. "Still plenty of room to catch up to the guys in front." The Finnish duo was back in the lead when Armstrong had to retire after a damaged rear suspension. Pajari and Mälkönen won all the remaining stages on Friday, extending their lead in class by over 3 minutes. "What a day! Have to say that I'm glad that we made it to service, the conditions were really rough especially on the second pass of the stages!" - wrote Pajari. "We also maintained our lead from yesterday so all good - big day coming up tomorrow!" On Saturday, the #66 crew of Pajari/Mälkönen avoided unnecessary risks, cruised through the stages and always remained in control of their big lead. They would end the day 4 minutes clear of the nearest Rally3 rival, Lauri Joona. "Never has a rally day been so difficult yet an uneventful one, we are happy to be here with no issues", Pajari added. "Hoping the same for tomorrow. 5 stages to go!" Sunday had a similar outcome, with the Finnish duo taking it easy on the last five stages to come home in front with a gap of over 5 minutes. The victory has an even better taste after the disappointments of Rally Sweden and Croatia, which ended with retirements despite their great pace. "That's a long awaited win at Rally Portugal! Big thanks to Enni, the team and all my supporters, we're still in the championship game!" - Pajari wrote, thanking his co-driver Enni Mälkönen, who returned to victory after the Montecarlo Rally. The rest of the podium was completed by Joona in second and Robert Virves in third. The championship standings now see Armstrong on top with 67 points, ahead of Joona (66) and Pajari/Mälkönen in third with 56 points with two rallies to go. Rally Estonia (14th to 17th July) will be next, followed by Rally Greece (8th to 11th September). But we will see Enni Mälkönen back in the navigator seat at Rally Italia Sardegna in two week's time, in Toksport WRT´s Skoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. It will be Pajari/Mälkönen's first outing in a Rally2 car. It wasn't their only win this weekend, as they also took WRC3 honors as well. They now lead the WRC3 category standings with 62 points, ahead of Joona (43) and Brazzoli (33).