Meet the teenager from Lahti who’s revving up the rally world

17-year old Sami Pajari is breaking into the big time winning the chance to drive at this year's Rally Finland in Jyväskylä.

File picture of Sami Pajari / Credit: Neste Rally Finland

If hurtling around a forest road at 180km per hour doesn’t seem like a typical teenage hobby, then that’s because Sami Pajari is not a typical teenager.

The 17-year old from Lahti was recently named ‘Flying Finn Future Star’ for 2019 – a prestigious honour in the rally world – and clinched the chance to be a competitor in this week’s Neste Rally Finland, with Oulu-based co-driver Antti Haapala.

The Jyväskylä race is the country’s biggest annual sporting event and attracts an estimated 260,000 people to the Central Finland city to watch the full throttle action.

“I guess it means that I am this year’s championship’s most promising young driver, and I have shown the possibility to grow as a driver really quickly” Pajari tells News Now Finland.

He’s being modest. To get to the top of the pack of other young drivers he had to go through tough physical and psychological tests, and show true grit behind the wheel of his souped-up Opel Astra.

“The physical tests were pretty tough, pushing very close to the limit in order to establish exactly how things stand, but now the feeling is just great” he says.

Jury member Juuso Pykälistö, himself an experienced rally driver, says Sami excelled in the competition with his “methodical approach, analytical skills and attitude to preparation”.

As part of the winner’s prize package, Pajari gets the chance to race in the FIA Junior rally in Jyväskylä where all the competitors race turbo-charged Ford Fiestas on the closed road stages.

File picture showing Sami Pajari (L) and co-driver Antti Haapala (R), July 2019 / Credit: Team Pajari FB

Getting into rally driving 

So how does a high school student break into the thrilling world of motor sports?

Sami Pajari had a family introduction.

“My dad was driving when I was young, so it was really easy to get into the sport” he explains.

While most of his classmates were riding bikes, Sami was already behind the wheel of a car racing in junior competitions. This year with his ‘Flying Finn’ win, he steps up into a bigger league.

“There is in Finland a class for under 18-years old, and I was driving in that class for the last three years, but this year [at Rally Finland] I’m driving in a completely difference championship. Now I’m driving in the main championship of Finland” he says.

“First of all it’s really nice and I enjoy it a lot. You can imagine you can get so much adrenaline and speed and all the excitement, especially the feeling you’re controlling the car at high speed. I guess that’s the main thing that makes it really enjoyable, even if many people would think it’s scary or something. It’s not” he tells News Now Finland.

Tough competition against world class drivers 

The top speed of Sami Pajari’s car is around 180km per hour, and these high performance vehicles make it an expensive sport without sponsorship from local companies.

The Rally Finland showcase means that Pajari can compete against international drivers, something he hasn’t had much experience of until now, and raise his profile.

“I have been driving 99% of my career in Finland, I was just testing last year one rally in Lithuania, so I don’t have that much experience from these sort of international rallies. So maybe it can be easier for me to drive in my first world championship event here at home in Finland” he says.

And what is Sami hoping to achieve at Rally Finland this year? Not crashing would be a good result he reckons.

“I guess that we just try to for sure show a good performance but I don’t think winning is the main target. It would be nice just to finish the rally and drive a clean full race and at the same time hopefully show good performance, not just try to rush and ruin the rally crashing maybe.”

Sami Pajari driving at Riihimäki rally, 25th May 2019 / Credit: Jarno Saari