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Thu 06 Oct 2022

Halttunen: WRC title means the world

Jonne Halttunen’s dream of becoming a world champion co-driver was finally realised at Repco Rally New Zealand last week.

Halttunen, now aged 36, began competing on local rallies way back in 2008 and gradually worked his way up the order before teaming up with Rovanperä during the second half of the 2017 season. 

The duo made their WRC debut as a pairing at Wales Rally GB the same year and won WRC2 Pro with Škoda in 2019 before joining Toyota Gazoo Racing for the following season. 

On Sunday, in only their 30th start at the sport’s top level, Rovanperä and Halttunen wrapped up the WRC title - ending New Zealand carrying an unassailable points lead with two rallies to spare.

“It means the world to me,” said Halttunen. “To be honest, it’s something I could never have even dreamed of like six years ago, and now we are here and it feels so nice. 

“We started the season really badly in Monte-Carlo and after the first stages we were even slower than the Rally2 cars. Now, to have six wins this season and the title already with two rallies to go, it’s something unbelievable,” he added. 

August’s Ypres Rally presented the pair their first opportunity to seal the deal, but a crash on Friday’s opening leg quashed any hopes of being crowned in Belgium. 

It marked Rovanperä’s first major mistake in an otherwise streak-free season, with another off-road excursion the next time out in Greece also adding further unnecessary pressure.

Kalle Rovanperä - The Youngest WRC Champion EVER!

Halttunen explained how their mid-season lull in form was not due to pressure, but simply normal rally-related challenges.  

“Possibly the pressure can make a difference,” he explained, “but also possibly not.” 

“There was a clear mistake with the pace notes in Ypres and in Greece we were fighting a lot with the setup of the car. I think, even with any mindset, it would have been the same. For sure, it has a few effects, but we gathered ourselves quite nicely here and we did our job. 

At just 22 years and one day old, Rovanperä became the youngest world champion in the history of the sport.

Quizzed on whether he thought his driver could be a once in a generation talent, Halttunen agreed - adding that he believes Rovanperä’s mental capacity is what really sets the Finn apart from other young drivers.  

“For me, I think he is. Kalle is super, super talented and it's just not his physical skills, but also the mental side is so strong. Actually, people under pressure and normally crack, but Kalle is the opposite - he just gets better and better and better.

“We tried to play it cool and even on Sunday morning, Kalle and I were discussing and we decided to approach it like any normal rally and not think about anything. It was the same with the Power Stage - we just pushed like normal and gave it full send.” 

Halttunen’s job is still not complete yet. With two rallies still remaining, he must guide Rovanperä through Spain and Japan as they bid to help Toyota secure the manufacturers’ championship title.