Red Bull Motorsports
History. Made. Simple.
Very simple. The world went mad at Kalle Rovanperä’s arrival as the World Rally Championship’s youngest ever winner on Sunday. At 20 years old (and 290 days). Nonchalant insouciance. Apologies for the tautology, but it’s hard to find another way to describe the Toyota-driving Finn’s take on Rally Estonia.
While those around him wound themselves up into a frenzy, Rovanperä ticked off the stages and scored himself a first WRC win.
Rovanperä doesn’t do expansive. That didn’t change in Tartu on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a nice feeling,” he said.
Face mask in place, any emotion was almost impossible to detect.
“Of course I had this dream to win,” he added. “And now I have it. It’s a nice feeling.”
Rovanperä paused, there was more.
“I wanted it quickly,” he said. “As quickly as possible.”
Suddenly, standing before you is a young guy. He’s just 291 days out of his teenage years, with all the impatience that brings. But he’s there now.
To quantify his achievement, he’s bested the record by two years and 23 days – a record held by his boss, Toyota’s team principal Jari-Matti Latvala.
“I knew this was coming,” said the older of the two Finns. “I knew from many years, when Rovanperä was first driving in the championship in 2017. I think we all knew my record was going to be broken. I am relaxed. This is the first, I think there are a lot more coming.”
Kalle Rovanperä wins Rally Estonia
How did he do it?
Rovanperä’s passage to victory in Estonia was made slightly more straightforward when Hyundai’s local hero and 2019 world champion Ott Tänak was forced to retire from the opening day after suffering a double puncture, with only one spare tyre aboard his i20 Coupe WRC.
As the Estonian city of Tartu caught its breath and dealt with the deep disappointment that its local hero – who had delivered a dream Rally Estonia success on the event’s WRC debut last September – was out, Rovanperä hit the front and stayed there.
Through Friday afternoon, it was nip and tuck between the Yaris WRC and Tänak’s team-mate Craig Breen. That changed first thing on Saturday morning.
The Peipsiääre stage which opened the weekend action was the longest of the rally at 23.53km. It was also the trickiest – by some margin.
Rally Estonia is defined by super-fast roads ripping through the Baltic countryside, with undulations and manmade jumps sending the world’s fastest rally cars ballistic every now and then.
Peipsiääre was the antithesis of this. Narrow, gnarly and very, very twisty, it led the crews along a tortuous knife-edge; the tempo had to stay as high as possible, but trees sitting inches from the outside of the road combined with wheel-rearranging rocks at every apex to provide jeopardy like nowhere else in Estonia.
Everybody put just a little bit more effort into learning this stage. But nobody found more speed than Rovanperä.
After trading tenths through day one, Rovanperä smashed Breen and the rest of his rivals out of the park in SS10. He went 10 seconds faster than anybody.
“He’s blown our doors off in there,” was the Irishman’s grim-faced appraisal.
With a lead growing towards the half-minute mark, the leader was now in control of the event. And that’s where things got, if anything, even more impressive.
Unphased by the increasing hullabaloo on the outside of the car, he ‘did his job’ and drove the car to the end of the rally.
And with that, he made history not only as the youngest driver ever to win a WRC round – but also the first member of the same family to win at rallying’s highest level. Kalle’s father Harri celebrated his first and only win at Rally Sweden two decades ago.
Telemetry in Estonia
Breen’s second place wasn’t going to make the same headlines as the one car ahead of his Hyundai, but his second consecutive Estonian runners-up spot was almost as worthy. Breen’s event was superb. He hasn’t been in a World Rally Car on gravel since this rally 10 months ago. Since then, his contemporaries have busied themselves with nine more WRC rounds. Craig’s part-time Hyundai deal meant he had the keys to an i20 Coupe WRC for just two of those nine.
What was the difference between him and Rovanperä last weekend?
“A full-time contract,” said Breen. “Simple as that.”
Third for Thierry Neuville meant a second double Estonian podium for Hyundai Motorsport in as many years. The Belgian’s speed was a step on from last season, but team principal Andrea Adamo wasn’t satisfied.
The Italian shrugged off any praise for delivering a car that was both quick and reliable.
“We want to win,” was the matter of fact appraisal.
Sébastien Ogier is well versed in winning, but not this weekend. Fourth was as good as it would get for the #1 Toyota Yaris WRC.
The Frenchman was philosophical at the finish, saying: “It’s not been the perfect weekend, but we expanded our lead and that – to be honest – is the only thing that matters. I didn’t do the maths yet, but I think it’s up to 37 [points]. I just need to keep doing this.”
Elfyn Evans rounded out the top-five in another Toyota, while Teemu Suninen was a distant sixth in his Ford Fiesta WRC.
Škoda driver Andreas Mikkelsen’s second win of the WRC2 season eased him further clear at the top of the table in the support series.