› 21-year old Finn and co-driver Enni Mälkönen win WRC2 at round nine of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship
› Andreas Mikkelsen (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) jumps to WRC2 overall lead with fourth position in Finland
› Oliver Solberg and co-driver Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) celebrate RC2 class victory
Jyväskylä (FIN), 6 August 2023 – Four Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 crews finished inside the top 5 of WRC2 at Rally Finland, round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Toksport WRT’s Sami Pajari and co-driver Enni Mälkönen from Finland celebrated their maiden WRC2 victory. With fourth position, their Norwegian teammate Andreas Mikkelsen took the overall lead of the WRC2 standings.
Frequent rain showers made the stages in the Jyväskylä area tricky with even the danger of aquaplaning in water-filled ruts. Nevertheless, average speeds mostly were in the 120 kph zone with local crew Jari Huttunen/Antti Haapala powering team Printsport’s Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 through the famous Lankamaa test with no less than 132.2 kph.
Huttunen/Haapala were fighting with fellow Finns Sami Pajari/Enni Mälkönen for the WRC2 lead from the word go. 21-year-old Pajari at the wheel of a Toksport WRT run Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 had the upper hand for most of the Friday leg, until a slow puncture (SS9) cost him some ten seconds. Huttunen reached the days finish with a lead of 12.9 seconds over Pajari. At that point, former WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Torstein Eriksen had lost some time due to a damper issue. The Norwegians were sitting in fifth position.
On Saturday, the duel for WRC2 supremacy between Huttunen/Haapala and Pajari/Mälkönen continued. By midday service, only 1.3 seconds separated the Printsport from the Toksport WRT Škoda, while the third-placed French crew of Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford) was already half a minute down. During the first stage of the afternoon, a technical issue sidelined Huttunen/Haapala.
Briton Gus Greensmith and Swedish co-driver Jonas Andersson also went out of luck. The WRC2 winners of Rally Mexico and Rally Portugal never really came to grips with the ultra-fast „Finnish gravel Grand Prix“. „It's been far less than we expected. Not sure why, I feel like we've driven well but the times just haven't been there,” Greensmith admitted after the first leg, which he finished in WRC2 eighth position. A stone in the middle of a relatively slow left hander threw the Toksport WRT run Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 on its side and Greensmith/Andersson out of the rally (SS16).
At the end of Saturday and after winning four of the leg’s eight stages, Pajari/Mälkönen enjoyed a 33,9 seconds lead over Fourmaux/Coria. “What a tricky day!“, Pajari said. „In the morning, I was pushing. In the afternoon some stages were just about surviving, especially in the last one - I cannot count with my fingers how many surprises there were." During the final leg on Sunday, the 2021 FIA Junior World Rally Champion played it safe. He celebrated his maiden WRC2 win with a margin of nearly 34 seconds to Adrien Fourmaux.
Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Torstein Eriksen opted for a tactical approach. „I decided to try a completely new setup for this rally, which was a mistake. But anyway, fourth place it's valuable points – we gave it the maximum,“ Mikkelsen revealed. The Norwegians finished in fourth position, which rewarded Mikkelsen with the overall lead in the WRC2 standings. Third position of the category went to Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2).
One of the fastest Škoda drivers was Oliver Solberg from Sweden. But the 21-year-old son of former FIA World Rally Champion Petter Solberg had not nominated Rally Finland as one of his WRC2 points scoring events. Solberg and British co-driver Elliott Edmondson drove the Toksport WRT run Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 to seven fastest stage times in the RC2 class on their way to class victory. Even more impressive: Solberg/Edmondson finished sixth overall!
From the smooth and fast forest stages of central Finland the WRC2 crews head to the rough and rocky backcountry roads of the Peloponnese. Acropolis Rally Greece is next from 7 to 10 September 2023.
Rally Finland, 3-6 August 2023, Result WRC2
1 Sami Pajari/Enni Mälkönen (FIN/FIN), Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, 2:43:15,0 hours
2 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (FRA/FRA), Ford Fiesta Rally2, +33.8 seconds
3 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (ANA/ANA), Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, +1:07.8 minutes
4 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (NOR/NOR), Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, +1:31.5 minutes
5 Mikko Heikkilä/Samu Vaaleri (FIN/FIN), Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, +2:00.6 minutes
Standings WRC2/Drivers (after 9 of 13 rallies)
1 Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR), Škoda, 83 points (from 4 rallies)
2 Yohan Rossel (FRA), Citroën, 77 points (from 4 rallies)
3 Sami Pajari (FIN), Škoda, 71 points (from 5 rallies)
4 Oliver Solberg (SWE), Škoda, 65 points (from 5 rallies)
5 Gus Greensmith (GBR), Škoda, 62 points (from 3 4 rallies)
Number of the rally: 0.0
Special stage 13 “Rapsula” had a length of an impressive 20.56 kilometres. Nevertheless, Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 crews Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson and Sami Pajari/Enni Mälkönen set the fastest times ex aequo – with exactly the same time to the tenth of a second after more than ten minutes of high-speed drifting and jumping through the forest.