Kalle Rovanpera has climbed up another notch in the World Rally Championship Hall of Fame following the successful defence of his world title.
After rewriting the record books last year by becoming the youngest ever world champion at the age of 22, the WRC’s latest superstar sealed the 2023 title by defeating Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans at last weekend’s Central European Rally.
Here’s how Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen completed a very different journey compared to 12 months ago, to remain on top of the rally world.
Slow but steady start raises eyebrows
Rovanpera highlighted in pre-season that the route to become only the sixth driver in WRC history to defend a world title would be “tricky”. Speaking in Motorsport.com’s season preview he made it clear that the competition in 2023 would be stronger.
“Of course it’s going to be quite tricky to defend the championship,” he acknowledges. “I think definitely Hyundai is levelling up quite a lot during the end of the season last year, so they were catching up a lot. And now with Ott Tanak at M-Sport it will be interesting to see their pace and I think the competition will be higher all the time.”
But such was the Finn’s domination of 2022, which included five wins from the first seven events, recording one podium from the first four events of 2023 raised eyebrows. The campaign began with a second and now customary Power Stage win in Monte Carlo as team-mate Sebastien Ogier racked up a record-breaking ninth win in the principality.
Three fourth-place finishes followed in Sweden, Mexico and Croatia. In hindsight, these results display the consistency that was key to winning the championship, but at the time there were concerns that Rovanpera had lost his hunger and spark.
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
There were concerns that Rovanperä had lost his hunger during the early stages of the season
Starting first on the road certainly hampered him in Sweden as he stated after Tanak claimed the victory for M-Sport: “I’m not really worried, we were in the fight quite well. Definitely, if we didn’t have this road position we could have been better. It was clear that everyone would be much closer than last year.”
But after witnessing Ogier triumph in Mexico, and a third consecutive non-podium finish in Croatia, where Evans broke his victory drought, Rovanpera made it clear that all was not well, aside from the two minutes lost to a puncture….