Arctic Rally Finland Powered by CapitalBox (26 - 28 February) will only be Rovanperä’s ninth top-level WRC start, but already people are tipping the 20-year-old Finn to score his first win in the frozen forests.
Twelve months ago in Sweden, Rovanperä become the sport’s youngest podium finisher at 19 years and 139 days after outgunning team-mate and now seven-time world champion Sébastien Ogier in the final Wolf Power Stage. It was only his second WRC rally in a World Rally Car.
He faces similar snow and ice conditions in northern Finland next week. Expectations are raised further after his victory in a Yaris at the non-championship Arctic Rally Lapland, a sister event to the Rovaniemi-based WRC fixture, in January 2020.
“I would say there is just a bit more pressure,” Rovanperä acknowledged. “It is not really big because I am not taking the pressure like that, but for sure I can feel that there is more excitement than pressure, also from Finnish people.
“Everybody is following a lot and counting on me much more than in other rallies, so I need to be good there. Snow has always been nice for me and I am confident there.”
Rovanperä doesn’t believe last year’s Lapland win will offer a big advantage when the Arctic roads appear in the WRC for the first time. Most of the stages will be driven in a different format to the ones he conquered.
Of more use to him would be the two days of testing he carried out earlier this month – one day close to Toyota’s Finnish base in Jyväskylä and one near Rovaniemi.
“The tests went well,” he said. “After the first time in Jyväskylä, the car was already feeling nice. When we tested [in Rovaniemi] last week it was really getting everything ready in the set-up for the rally. Anyway, I think we are already quite good with the car.
“Winning the rally last year, I think it will help in some places, but I wouldn’t say that it’s helping much. There are some stages I have been driving last year, some in the opposite direction and some are new. I would say it helps a bit to know what’s coming, but there’s no huge benefit.”
Arctic Rally Finland will be the first pure winter event for Pirelli’s new tyres and Rovanperä spent plenty of test time acclimatising to them.
“It was good to get the feeling from the Pirelli tyre, it’s quite different from the Michelin we used last year,” he explained.
Video: Arctic Rally Finland
“The biggest thing what we needed to do was to find the correct set-up for the new tyre. The body of the tyre is a bit different, so it is affecting also the set-up quite much and also the feeling of the driver.
“The difference is quite big with the tyres from last year. With Pirelli, it’s changing quite a lot, the style of the tyres is quite different. There are some things what you need to learn. It’s quite easy to learn, but there is a bigger job to make the car right for the tyre.”
• Full coverage from Arctic Rally Finland Powered by CapitalBox will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.
• Headline photograph: Hannu Rainamo