Red Bull Motorsports
He saved it and brought his Toyota Yaris WRC to the finish a day and a bit later with a comfortable lead over Ott Tänak’s Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
"It was close," said the Finn. "It was a huge moment. I was in the ditch… so lucky there was nothing waiting for us in there. I had taken too much speed, there was too much [speed] in the pacenote. We were lucky. After that, I was a bit more careful."
Careful, but quickest. And then fastest again.
Rally drivers are made special. Clearly Rovanperä's more special than most. To have diced with disaster just an hour or so before and then re-set to make another fastest time was quite exceptional.
The 20-year-old is riding the crest of a wave right now and Saturday in central Greece was an absolute demonstration of precisely where the future of the World Rally Championship sits. Rovanperä landed his first-ever WRC win two rallies ago in Estonia and that was an impressive result. But Finns and fast roads just work.
The Acropolis Rally, the penultimate gravel round of the WRC season, was something quite different. Yes, there were places where you could crack on a bit and pull some speed, but Greece is about surviving, keeping the car in one piece and some tread on the tyres.
When I saw what happened to my main championship rivals, I had to put the ego aside and drive for the points
It's a tactical rally, it’s about nous and experience, and when the weather went a little bit bananas in the days before the start, it was about understanding how the conditions would evolve.
With only the limited 2020 season for experience in a factory World Rally Car, Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen couldn't really be expected to feature in such a nuanced event, could they?
Rovanperä took conventional thinking and threw it in the bin.
He used the first gravel stage to get his eye in and then took time at will. He saved the best for the last morning. On a stage aptly named Tarzan, he destroyed everybody. Across 23 kilometres, he was 14 seconds faster than Tänak and 28 up on team-mate Sébastien Ogier.
By his own admission, the seven-time world champion was driving with a finish and an extension to his lead at the top of the table very much at the forefront of his mind, but still…
With a rueful shake of the head, Ogier said: "That's a proper time."
Nobody disagreed. Nobody could disagree.
At the finish, Rovanperä celebrated the perfect 30. A win and the full quota of Power Stage points.
"The car was really working for me," he said. "On the first day, it was nice, but then we made some changes and it got even better on Saturday and today. It's good."
Typically, Rovanperä looked slightly awkward with the praise and preferred to offer a deeper analysis: "When we come to these events, which are like new rallies – and this one was nearly a new event – the others don't have the experience. We are all the same, all making pacenotes here for the first time – then I can push hard and I can make a difference on the first loop."
Rovanperä was definitely the difference this time.
Ogier was content with third and a lead in the world championship standings that has mushroomed to 44 points.
"I had to drive with the strategy," said Ogier. "That was the plan for this weekend. When I saw what happened to my main championship rivals, I had to put the ego aside this time and drive for the finish and the points."
Hyundai's weekend could have been a lot worse. The Korean team held its breath when Tänak's second-placed i20 Coupe WRC refused to start ahead of the final stage. Eventually, the Estonian coaxed life into it and made it to the podium's second step.
Ahead of this event, there were those who feared the traditional challenge of the Acropolis might have faded, with smoother roads and an autumn date that meant less extreme temperatures. Don't worry, Greek tragedy remained as much a part of the plot as ever in Lamia.