Monday, September 27, 2021

Toyota’s teenage talent turns 20

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In his teens he won a world championship, landed a drive with the planet’s biggest carmaker, scored a podium on only his second start at the highest level and won two of the 2020 season’s first three Wolf Power Stages.

As Kalle Rovanperä departs his teenage years today (1 October), he takes one question into his twenties: what’s possible for Finland’s teenage dream turned 20-something superstar?

There seems little doubt that the son of former Rally Sweden winner Harri will be world champion sooner or later. But will it be soon enough?

From today he’s got two years and 312 days to become the sport’s youngest ever WRC event winner. Doing so would ruin the record of countryman Jari-Matti Latvala, who won the 2008 Rally Sweden aged 22 years and 313 days.

If it’s the championship he’s got his eye on – which we know it is – the target is slightly wider. Colin McRae remains the series’ youngest champ at 27.

Rovanperä’s team-mates at Toyota Gazoo Racing marked his birthday with some tongue-in-cheek messages.

Six-time champion Sébastien Ogier said: “I wish you a very happy birthday. Twenty starts to be a big, big age, so please slow down a little bit and don’t push it too much!”

Series leader Elfyn Evans joked: “I just wanted to say a big happy birthday. I think you’ve turned 12 this time, so you’re almost into the teens!”

We wonder if he received a greeting from Sébastien Loeb? On the day Kalle was born, the nine-time champion finished ninth at the Tour de Corse – Rally de France in a Toyota Corolla, on his debut at the WRC’s highest level!

Ever since he was filmed rocketing across a frozen Finnish lake aged eight, Rovanperä’s career path has been set for him.

Winning WRC 2 on only his second series start (Rally Australia, 2017) in a Ford Fiesta R5 was impressive, but his domination of the WRC 2 Pro campaign last year was the perfect precursor to his arrival on the centre stage.

For Kalle himself, it’s just another birthday. His only focus is next week and the chance to put right what he felt was a troubled 2019 Rally Italia Sardegna outing.

That troubled outing netted a third successive category win, but left Rovanperä uncomfortable with his set-up for the rough Sardinian roads. Next week, he wants to learn more about driving these kind of roads in these kind of cars.

Teenager or 20-something, Kalle’s thirst for knowledge will never change.


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