Victory for co-driver Thulin, Championship drama for Mälkönen in JWRC in Greece
The championship battle ahead of the last race of the season in JWRC was on fire with four teams in contention for the 2022 crown: Co-driver Enni Mälkönen hit trouble on Friday and unfortunately dropped out of the battle. But co-driver Julia Thulin, with the rally victory in Greece, helped Virves to be crowned JWRC champion.
The last rally of the 2022 JWRC season meant double points and a lot of action, with four teams in contention for the Junior title ahead of the final event. Last year's champion, now driving together with Finnish co-driver Enni Mälkönen, could have written another page of history by defending the title, as nobody has ever been able to do so.
With the same amount of points, Jon Armstrong was second and Robert Virves third - just one point behind the two. Virves' co-driver Julia Thulin, though, would not be able to win the co-driver championship title, as she missed the first round of the championship. Lauri Joona was sitting in fourth, also ready to battle for his chances.
The first full day of rallying on Friday saw Virves going fastest, while his opponents hit trouble. Armstrong was fast, but he was forced to stop on the final stage to change a wheel and lost approximately one and a half minute. Nevertheless, he was able to continue after the tire change.
Armstrong wasn't the only one to face drama on Friday, as Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen had three punctures during two stages and the pair were forced to retire with the maximum of two spares onboard. They would rejoin on Saturday, but without real chances for the championship title anymore.
His countryman Lauri Joona damaged the rear suspension during the day and limped back to the service point losing valuable time to Virves, still in the lead.
Saturday was again on point for Virves, as he extended his gap to more than 53 seconds ahead of Armstrong. The Estonian - alongside Swedish co-driver Julia Thulin, didn't take too many risks on the tough rocky surface.
Pajari and Mälkönen rejoined the action and won five out of six stages - highlighting their extraordinary pace, which put them back into fourth place in the rankings. Fellow Finn Joona was forced to retire due to a gearbox issue and was out of the championship battle.
There were no surprises on Sunday, as Robert Virves and Julia Thulin won Rally Greece with a comfortable gap ahead of Armstrong, who had a good pace on Sunday, but not enough time to catch up with the Estonian driver.
Virves became the first ever Junior WRC Champion from Estonia. Having changed his co-driver midway through the season, Julia Thulin couldn't be crowned Co-driver champion, with the title being assigned to Brian Hoy, co-driving Armstrong.
Sami Pajari and Enni Mälkönen came home in fourth in the rally and third in the championship. Enni Mälkönen placed second in the co-drivers' championship standings.
A big result for the young Finn.
The calendar for next year's season is yet to be revealed and no announcement of drivers and co-drivers have been made so far, but we can hopefully expect more female drivers and co-drivers on the grid, to tackle for more success on the road in a rally car all over the world.