6 reasons Kalle Rovanperä is the Max Verstappen of World Rally
© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
Aged just 19, Kalle Rovanperä is an astonishing talent, smashing records along his way to the WRC championship, and there's more than a few resemblances with Max Verstappen’s meteoric rise to F1.
Max Verstappen tore up the F1 rule book when he first burst onto the scene back in 2015, becoming the youngest F1 driver at 17 years, 166 days. Since then, Verstappen has continued to break records – the youngest driver to win championship points, the youngest to lead a lap and the youngest to win a Formula One race, among other firsts. That sort of talent is incredibly rare, but head over to WRC and Kalle Rovanperä is showing all the hallmarks of being World Rally’s own Verstappen, breaking records and delighting fans along the way.
Prodigious aptitude at such a young age isn’t the only thing the pair have in common, however, and both Verstappen and Rovanperä boast similar traits and backgrounds that have helped them on their respective journeys to the top.
Born to Drive
For starters, both racers are the offspring of world-class drivers, with the WRC star the son of Harri Rovanperä, a Finish rally driver who excelled on gravel. Rovanperä the elder enjoyed 77 stage wins, a WRC victory at the Swedish rally, and the Champion of Champions title at the Race of Champions, making his mark on the world scene during a successful career.
Verstappen also belongs to a successful racing bloodline, with father Jos Verstappen proving himself as a truly capable driver on the world’s greatest stage, racing alongside Michael Schumacher for Benetton in 1994, and going on to race another 107 Grand Prix over the next decade. The veteran also picked up wins racing in A1 Grand Prix and the LMP2 class at Le Mans 24 hours, before turning mentor to a young Max.
That bond between father and son proved instrumental for both Max and Kalle, with both youngsters taking to racing at a very young age, and both benefiting from parental advice, experience, a family name known and respected throughout motorsports and a huge dollop of talent that most drivers can only dream of.
Reaching the top at a young age
Formula One is a notoriously difficult sport to break into, with only ten teams and 20 seats to fight for, and competition that will nearly always be able to offer more money, more sponsorship or, simply, more talent. That makes it all the more impressive that the then 17-year-old Verstappen was able to break through the ranks, with sheer skill and pure speed setting him apart from his peers, and potential that could see him dominate the sport for years to come.
In some ways, WRC is even more competitive, with only three manufacturers fighting it out at the very top – Ford, Toyota and Hyundai – and a total of 14 seats up for grabs. Aged 14, Rovanperä wasn’t even old enough to have a license when he competed in his first R2 class rally in 2015, and after competing and succeeding in WRC2, Rovanperä made his debut in the top echelons of the sport, signing for Toyota Gazoo Racing for 2020, aged just 19.
Both drivers also started racing at an age most of us are still wobbly on foot, with Rovanperä taking to bikes and ATVs at the age of three, cars at six, and his first rally at the age of ten, while Verstappen jumped behind the wheel of his first kart aged four.
Setting the motorsports world alight
There’s a reason that both Rovanperä and Verstappen reached the top of their respective sports while in their teens, and you only need to take a quick glance at their CVs to see that both were dazzling fans of feeder categories for years.
Following in the tyre tracks of Verstappen, who won numerous karting titles including the prestigious World KZ championship, along with ten race wins in Formula Three, Rovanperä also lit up junior categories in the rallying world on his way to the WRC. Rovanperä’s palmarès include the Latvian R2 class championship, Latvian open class championship and, following a successful year in 2019, the WRC 2 championship.
Fearless driving styles
Watching Verstappen over the past couple of years has been a true pleasure, with the youngster proving absolutely fearless on track. It’s not always worked out – there have been crashes and mishaps along the way – but there’s no doubting how effective it is when Verstappen gets things right, with the Dutchman proving blisteringly fast.
Rovanperä’s own driving style is equally impressive, with a steely self-belief that helps him to push to the absolute limit, and occasionally beyond. There was a monumental crash at the 2018 Rally Argentina, for example, where Rovanperä rolled his Skoda at over 161kph, but as with Verstappen’s occasional offs, it’s all part of the learning process, and Rovanperä is becoming increasingly consistent.
The opportunity to take overall glory
Just like Verstappen, Rovanperä is not simply in the sport to make up the numbers, and is very much fighting to win. Both drivers signed for teams that would give them the opportunity for glory, Verstappen with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, and Rovanperä with Toyota Gazoo Racing, and both drivers are showing maturity beyond their years, going head-to-head with established racers and coming out on top.
“My Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC car is a big step up after my R5 car, with all the aerodynamics and more power,” Rovanperä tells us, “but it has been going good so far, and I’ve really got to learn all about the new car.”
Continuing to dazzle at the very top
Despite signing for leading teams, both drivers have handled the demands of top-tier racing particularly well. Rovanperä explains: “I’m not feeling the pressure, I just want to do my best and see how it goes.”
That attitude has led to a string of consistent finishes in WRC this year, including two fifth place finishes and a third place podium in Sweden. Rovanperä also took his first stage victory in Sweden, and adds, “It was nice to get that first stage win at the power stage, and also getting third place at the same time. I was happy for sure!”
Since stepping up to F1, Verstappen also continued to dazzle, impressing at Scuderia Toro Rosso (now Scuderia AlphaTauri), winning his debut race with Red Bull Racing in 2016 and enjoying six top-five finishes during his first eight races with the team. 2019 saw Verstappen finish third in the championship, and still only 22, time is very much on his side.
If Rovanperä’s opening three races of 2020 are anything to go by, the talented Fin is very much WRC’s own Max Verstappen, and it looks like it’s only a matter of time before we see him on the top step of the podium. In the meantime, however, with an attitude that keeps him grounded, Rovanperä simply wants to be the best he can, concluding: “My aim is to get better with the car, and also learn the new rallies we’ll be racing in this season.”