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The 2022 FIA Junior WRC Championship fight is set to go down to the wire on the rough and rocky Acropolis Rally Greece.
Four drivers in contention to win the biggest prize package in rallying with four fully funded WRC2 prize drives including a pre-event test for each rally in a Fiesta Rally2 with M-Sport in 2023.
This year’s champion will add their name to the history books joining the likes of Sebastien Loeb, Sebastien Ogier, Dani Sordo, Elfyn Evans and Craig Breen.
Sami Pajari is bidding to become the Junior WRC’s only champion to successfully defend their crown and also the second two-time Junior WRC Champion in the history of the sport. Jon Armstrong would become the first champion from the United Kingdom for a decade since Elfyn Evan’s title success in 2012. Should Robert Virves be crowned champion, it would be a landmark moment for Estonia, becoming the country’s first Junior WRC champion, a feat Urmo Aava came heartbreakingly close to in 2006 and 2007.
Thanks to double classification points and Wolf Stage Win Points on the final round of the season, a total of 66 championship points are up for grabs leaving the title fight wide open. Each crew entered on Rally Greece can also drop their worst score of the season and, after discounting their worst scores, every driver has a mathematical chance of winning the championship.
Junior WRC is poised for a mouth-watering battle for the 2022 title; Pajari and Armstrong head to Greece tied on points as joint leaders with Virves trailing them by a single point. The championship landscape changes when each contenders’ worst classification scores are discounted. Armstrong drops 12 points to 73, putting him third as Virves only drops eight points, promoting him to second on 76 points. Pajari stays on top with 85 points, not dropping any points thanks to his lowest score being a DNF in Croatia. Croatia rally winner, Lauri Joona, is also in a strong position to contend for the championship thanks to double classification points. He sits fourth with 67 points but given the points difference between first and second in Greece is 14, winning the championship becomes a realistic objective for Joona.
The rally itself will offer many challenges and obstacles, the biggest of which will be surviving the first full day on Friday which only has a tyre fitting zone between the two loops of stages. Temperatures are set to also test each Junior WRC crews’ fitness and concentration levels as the ambient air temperature is expected to exceed 30 degrees.
The temperatures will also have an effect on each crews’ tyre choice. Pirelli brings 22 Scorpion K4 (hard) tyres and 12 Scorpion K6 (soft) tyres for each crew to choose from but they are limited to choosing a maximum of 26 tyres for the rally including shakedown. Should conditions stay dry and hot, the hard tyre will be the tyre of choice, meaning soft tyres will be deployed strategically.
Maciej Woda, FIA Junior WRC Championship Manager:
“There is always a great sense of opportunity and excitement whenever we head into the final round of a championship. The double classification points, dropped scores and Wolf Stage Win points mean that it’s still completely wide open and everybody has a mathematical chance of winning the championship. In reality, the top-four are the real contenders and it’s impossible to say who is a favourite. It’s going to be a nail-biting thriller and it will be at the forefront of each drivers’ mind at the start line of every stage this weekend, the pressure is going to be immense.
“I am sure each crew will have their own individual strategy too, and the strategy will start immediately with a super special opening the rally inside the Olympic Stadium in Athens on Thursday. Thursday’s tyre selection carries over to the first loop on Friday, which will require a hard selection of tyres so a compromise will need to be found.”
58 Sami Pajari / Enni Malkonen
“The temperatures will be very high during the rally so I think it will be tough for the car and drivers. The competition is really high and there are four guys who have a very good chance at winning so who knows what will happen.”
59 Jon Armstrong / Brian Hoy
“It’s probably going to be a little about looking after the car, the tyres, trying to find a good rhythm and push where we can. We just want to enjoy it, make the most of the opportunity and hopefully we will get a good result in the end.”
60 Robert Virves / Julia Thulin
“What we need to do to succeed is hard to say but it’s not going to be easy. A lot of guys can win this championship and there are a lot of challenges in this rally to attack. I think first we need to have a good rally before thinking about our chances for the championship.”
61 Lauri Joona / Mikael Korhonen
“On a rally like this you really need to look after your car while still finding the areas where you can drive as fast as you can, but overall it is a very rough rally that needs a clever strategy. The championship fight is going to be very hard, there are a lot of fast guys, I think Sami is the one everybody is targeting but it is too close. I think one of my biggest strengths is consistency though and looking after the car which are very important here.”
62 William Creighton / Liam Regan
“It’s my first time here in Greece and my first time doing the rally so it’s going to be pretty tough. The stages are very rough and the temperatures are going to be high all weekend, we need to try and be smart but it will be nice to finish the season on a high.”
63 McRae Kimathi / Mwangi Kioni
“Really looking forward to it, it’s one of those classic rallies. It will be very rough I am sure so it’s going to be hard on the car and tyres. The heat will also make it quite interesting as well.”
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