2020 FIA Junior WRC debutante Lauri Joona has secured his drive in the championship for 2021, by winning the prestigious AKK Flying Finn Future Star award.
The 23-year-old was announced as the recipient of the award ahead of 2019 winner Sami Pajari and Jani Luhtaniemi. The annual award is chosen from drivers who are aged 25 and under, and compete in the Finnish Rally Championship Class 3.
The selection panel, comprising of the Finnish ASN Rally Commission and Championship Promoter Kai Tarkiainen, noted that this year it was particularly difficult to select a winner, with little splitting Joona and reigning champion Pajari.
“Joona has developed a lot over the past few years. Not only as a skilful rally driver, but also as an athlete, and has thus convinced us to be worthy of this prize,” stated Chairman of the Commission, Markus Silfvas.
Siflvas continued by saying: “His latest championship season was very impressive, and he finished it on the top of the podium. He has a lot of mileage under his belt considering his age, having started already seven years ago – we’ll hear more from this guy yet.”
Joona himself was somewhat surprised upon learning of the award. “When I was told the news, my first thought was…can this be true?,” expressed the young star. “Our season has been great, and everything has gone as well as one could expect. We really hit the jackpot this year, which really means a lot for the future.”
Joona is the seventh recipient of the award, which comes with an impressive rollcall. Past winners include M-Sport Ford driver Teemu Suninen and Jari Huttunen, who is currently sitting second in the WRC 3 standings.
This season, Joona debuted in the FIA Junior WRC at Rally Sweden, where a third place on the podium went begging after he suffered a heartbreaking puncture on the the final test of the weekend – the Wolf Power Stage. 2019 winner Pajari is currently positioned third in the overall Junior standings and is well placed to strike for the title when the season comes to a conclusion next month at ACI Rally Monza.
Both Joona and Pajari have also shown themselves to be competent in the world of eSports WRC. Competing in a field which included a number of established eSports drivers at the Neste Rally Finland eChallenge back in August, Pajari and Joona stunned many pundits to finish second and third respectively.