Toyota hands Rally1 debut to rising WRC star in Latvia

Pajari and co-driver Enni Malkonen will step up from driving Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 car in WRC2 to pilot a fourth GR Yaris Rally1 at the gravel rally that will make its WRC debut from 18-21 July.

The news comes just days after the pair claimed their second career WRC2 win after finishing sixth overall at last weekend’s round in Sardinia.

Pajari has emerged as one of the WRC’s bright young talents, becoming the youngest-ever Junior WRC champion in 2021, before progressing to the second tier WRC2 class. Malkonen first navigated for Pajari in 2021 and secured the WRC3 co-drivers’ title in 2022.

“This is something that I have been working towards for many years, but it is not so often that there is a seat available in a Rally1 car,” said the 22-year-old Finn.

“It will be a huge challenge because there are so many new things to learn, and the pace at the top level is also really high. But I will try to not focus on the result too much or feel any pressure on that side, and just aim to enjoy and gain all the experience I can for the future.

“At least in Latvia the stages are mostly fast and flowing, something that I’m quite used to from Finland, and it’s also basically a fresh event for everyone, so in this sense we are more or less starting from the same place as the top drivers.

“I hope that if we can do well, then maybe there can be a chance for something nice in the future, but that’s something I can only think about much later. For now, I’ll just focus on this one rally and enjoy it.”

Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala has closely followed Pajari’s and Malkonen’s rise up the rally pyramid.

Latvala offered Pajari guidance at the start of his career in 2020, while Malkonen has called notes for Latvala in Finnish national rallies.

While Latvala is keen to see how the pair cope in faster Rally1 machinery, he has stressed that an overall result in Latvia is not the most important target.

“Alongside our Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Challenge Program, where since 2015 we have been training young Japanese drivers, we also keep an eye out for the most talented young drivers competing in the WRC support categories,” said Latvala.

“This year we’ve seen that Sami Pajari is driving really well with our GR Yaris Rally2 car and we would like to see his potential in our Rally1 car.

“We wish that they have a nice experience with the Rally1, and they learn about it and if they do well that is also positive.

“But the most important part is to see how they accommodate the Rally1, and it is about learning. This is not the place where they need to show something the idea is to see how is the step from Rally2 to Rally1.”

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