Mon 18 Jul 2022

Super Kalle is fantastic, Finland’s now in focus

There are some moments in our sport that are simply jaw-dropping, occasions that prompt the question in the immediate aftermath: ‘Did that actually happen?’

Think Walter Röhrl winning a foggy 42km Arganil stage in Portugal by a monstrous 3min 48sec from Björn Waldegård in 1980. Or Prodrive’s arm-waving hierarchy in the road frantically trying to slow Colin McRae and implement team orders in Spain in 1995.

In more recent times, think Sébastien Loeb going quickest in the final stage in Corsica 2005 to complete a grand slam of fastest times. Or Kris Meeke winning Mexico 2017 after diving off the road in the closing kilometres and circling a car park as he sought to spot a way out.

Just after 15:15 in Estonia on Sunday afternoon came another mouth wide-open moment.

Kalle Rovanperä had just completed Rally Estonia’s closing Kambja Wolf Power Stage an inconceivable 22.4sec up on Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Elfyn Evans. In 15.95km.

Granted the heavy rain had stopped and conditions were easing. But the four-minute difference in start times between the GR Yaris colleagues did not equate to a 22.4sec improvement.

And that is no slight on Evans. In a stage where drivers were fighting for bonus points, Kalle was even quicker than Esapekka Lappi, Ott Tänak and anyone else you care to mention.

As cool 21-year-olds do, Rovanperä took it all in his stride.

“I saw that there was heavy rain before for the guys and then a bit less and less for the last cars to come through,” he explained. “I knew that we had a chance to have a good position to start the stage.

“Then I pushed for it and the time was good. I was quite happy with the drive and still managing the pace quite a lot.”

‘Quite’ happy…... ‘Managing the pace’…..!

Instead, we turned to co-driver Jonne Halttunen for an insight into life alongside King Kalle in that stage and across a stellar season in which they have won four of the last six rallies. With their home round in Finland next up, who would argue it won’t be six out of eight?

“I think I had to pinch myself but to be honest this is the same stuff he has been doing since WRC2 times,” smiled Halttunen. “Now the level is always going higher but it seems like he can make the results in every level.

“This is something I would not have even dreamed of one year ago when we won our first rally here and now it is going like this. He’s doing his own job and the system we have in the car, everything we are doing - it seems to be like the formula is right.”

Rovanperä has started 46 world rallies, all of them alongside Halttunen. It’s the type of early-career consistency that Loeb and Daniel Elena shared. And Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia. And we all know how their careers panned out…..

“We have been a pair together for five years and we have developed our own system of doing things, like how to check all the notes,” Halttunen added.

“We do quite a lot of work together, maybe some drivers do it themselves, but we do everything together. So always when you have two pairs of eyes checking the stuff, like notes and everything, I think that can also help. But the main thing is Kalle’s talent, it’s just so pure, he is just so good.”

The pair have an 83-point championship lead with six rounds remaining. That’s a maximum of 180 points. Bets aren’t yet closed on the title, but the bookies are scratching their heads.

But becoming WRC champions, which would make Rovanperä the youngest to wear the crown in the series’ 50-year history, is not yet in their thoughts.

“It’s easier for us if we don’t think about stuff like this. If it comes, it’s nice, but I think it’s easier to focus on rally by rally,” added Halttunen.

“At the end of the season if we have to decide if we have to take a risk or no, maybe we take the option not to risk because the situation is good. But everything we are doing is working fine, so why change?”

Why, indeed?

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