Celebrating your 21st birthday by threading a state-of-the art World Rally Car through the world’s fastest rally special stages chasing a win in front of your passionate home-town fans sounds rather like a comic-book story, or does it…
That’s the reality for Finland’s Kalle Rovanperä, currently the hottest property in the FIA World Rally Championship right now. And tomorrow Rovanperä will put the birthday presents to one side to chase a third straight gravel win, after becoming the WRC’s youngest-ever event winner in Estonia in July. The young Finn followed up that with a victory in Greece earlier this month.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver is the latest motorsport hero from Jyväskylä, the traditional home of the fastest round in the WRC calendar. Drivers born there have celebrated a remarkable 45 rally wins in the series’ 49-year history, including four-time world champion Tommi Mäkinen, Mikko Hirvonen, Henri Toivonen and Rovanperä’s father, Harri.
“Driving Rally Finland in a World Rally Car is going to be one of the coolest things for me in my career so far,” he admitted. “A home rally is always different and Rally Finland is something special. You can really feel the atmosphere there.”
Cars frequently top 125mph on roads amid the forests and lakes of central Finland that can resemble a rollercoaster. The speed, big jumps and blind crests masking corners mean pace notes must be perfect and delivered with pinpoint accuracy by hard-working co-drivers.
This year’s event runs two months later than normal with autumn well and truly set in, resulting in cooler temperatures, wetter roads and less grip on slippery gravel are hazards that drivers must counter this time.
“Now that it’s later in the year, the conditions could be really difficult if it’s wet and muddy,” Rovanperä added. “That could change things a bit, but I’m really looking forward to it, and it’s going to be really nice to see the fans cheering for us on the stages.”
Toyota Yaris colleague Sébastien Ogier holds a 44-point lead over team-mate Elfyn Evans. If results go his way, the Frenchman could clinch his eighth WRC title here with two rounds still remaining.
For the Toyota team, based just outside Jyväskylä, their Yaris WRC is undefeated in Finland since the Japanese manufacturer returned to the sport in 2017. But Ogier is taking nothing for granted.
“The Yaris WRC was born on Finnish roads so it should perform well there but I’m expecting tough competition as well, including from my team-mates,” he explained. “Nothing is decided in the championship yet so let’s see what approach we will take on this rally.”
Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta and 2017 winner Esapekka Lappi also drive Yaris WRCs. Katsuta has stand-in co-driver Aaron Johnston alongside, while Lappi is back at the top level for the first time in 10 months.
Hyundai Motorsport currently trails Toyota by 57 points in defence of its manufacturers’ title and needs strong performances from i20 WRC trio of regulars Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak with Irishman Craig Breen, taking on the role of the third driver for this event.
Young up and coming rally stars Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux complete the top-tier lie-up in M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRCs with Frenchman Fourmaux partnered by new co-driver Alexandre Coria for the first time.
The rally starts in Jyväskylä tomorrow afternoon (Friday) and returns for the finish on Sunday afternoon after 19 special stages covering 178.4 miles.