The son of a WRC race winner, Kalle Rovanperä grew up at the wheel of a rally car with his talent nurtured by father Harri, winner of the 2001 Rally Sweden. Rovanperä started riding motorbikes and buggies at age three. He started learning to drive at six, and by eight, he was racing around Finnish forests in cars that Harri had adapted so he could reach the pedals.
Rovanperä followed his father into the WRC and has gone one step further by winning the WRC Drivers' Championship in 2022. Not content with just participating in just one motorsport discipline, Rovanperä is now stepping into the sport of drifting and plans to participate in more drifting events in the future, including a near full season of the Drift Masters European Championship (DMEC) in 2023.
Fast learner: Kalle Rovanperä's childhood
Just as Max Verstappen was mentored by his father Jos, spending hours putting in practice laps, Rovanperä grew up power sliding over gravel, feathering the throttle.
It takes years for rally drivers to build the skills to race at 200kph over asphalt, gravel and ice: the record Rovanperä is breaking as the youngest WRC world champion was set by Colin McRae in 1995 when the Scot was 27. The two most successful drivers of all time, Sébastien Loeb and Sébastien Ogier didn't take their first championship until they were 30 and 29, respectively.
Born to drive
Born to Drive
Kalle Rovanperä started driving rally cars at the age of eight and has been unstoppable since.
Rally drivers need to be quick, and they need to understand the vehicle, read the surface and know the route layout from recceing with the co-driver. Like an F1 driver, they need to give accurate feedback to help the team's mechanics set up the car. But an F1 circuit remains more or less constant while a rally driver races in all weathers on solid, muddy, gravelly, dusty or frozen surfaces that change with each passing car. Thanks to his early start, Rovanperä began building those awesome driving skills before most of us could ride a bike.
Meet his dad, Harri
Rovanperä's father, Harri 'Rovis' Rovanperä, competed in WRC between 1993 and 2006, driving for SEAT, Peugeot, Mitsubishi and the Red Bull-backed Škoda team. The winner of the 2001 Rally Sweden, Harri was a respected gravel specialist.
"He was also my first teacher. He taught me that the car had a steering wheel, an accelerator and a clutch, and then told me to get on with it," says Rovanperä. As well as mentoring Kalle, he brought in friends, such as his former co-driver Risto Pietiläinen, to help.
Meet his mother, Tiina
Like Max Verstappen's mother, Sophie Kumpen, Rovanperä's mother Tiina recognises that some of her son’s extraordinary talents are inherited from her. "It's difficult to learn how to concentrate. You're either born with it, or you're not," she told Finnish daily Ilta-Sanomat. "But Kalle doesn't let outside things bother him and is able to reset previous events quickly."
And like Verstappen's mother, she worries that her son is safe. "She's fine about it today, but I realise she worries about me during the rallies. I do motorsport. Anything could happen," says Rovanperä.
Those slippery Finnish roads combined with that cool under pressure are key ingredients for producing great drivers, such as F1 World Champions Kimi Raïkkönen, Mika Häkkinen and Keke Rosberg. In the world of rallying, the list is much longer: Marcus Grönholm, Tommi Mäkinen, Juha Kankkunen and more.
Puuppola itself is a hotbed of rallying talent and home to Tommi Mäkinen, who signed Rovanperä to Toyota Gazoo Racing, and Timo Jouhki – the legendary driver manager who masterminded the careers of Mäkinen, Kankkunen and one Harri Rovanperä. He's managed Kalle Rovanperä since he turned 16.
Rovanperä becomes a champion
Aged 12, Rovanperä was ready to race, but in Europe, you need a driving licence before you can go rallying. Everywhere, that is, except Latvia, where he started racing in rally sprints, with Risto taking the wheel of the Škoda Fabia S2000 to drive between stages.
At 15, Rovanperä was crowned R2 champion in Latvia. The following year, equipped with a more powerful Škoda Fabia R5, he became the world's youngest-ever national rally champion, retaining the title in 2017. That year he also raced in the Italian Championship and won two rallies in the Finnish Championship.
Rovanperä's rally results to date
2022 WRC: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 1st, 203 points (5 wins, 6 podiums)
2021 WRC: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 4th, 142 points (2 wins, 4 podiums)
2020 WRC: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 5th, 80 points (1 podium)
2019 WRC2 Pro: World Champion (5 wins)
2018 WRC2: Škoda Motorsport II – 3rd (2 wins)
2017 WRC2: 15th (1 win), Latvia national champion
2016: Latvia national champion
2015: Latvia R2 class champion
Licence to race
On October 2, 2017, the day after his 17th birthday, Rovanperä passed his driving test, and at last, he could compete on the global stage.
Kalle Rovanperä takes his driving test
Watch how the 17-year-old rally driver gets his driving license.
Three weeks later, he was racing with Malcolm Wilson's M-Sport Team at Rally GB, where he began his partnership with co-driver Jonne Halttunen. In the final rally of the season in Australia, Rovanperä became the youngest driver to win a round in the WRC2.
Crashing onto the world stage with WRC2
In 2018, Škoda signed Rovanperä for a factory drive in WRC2 with Halttunen at his side. It was a tough rookie season as Rovanperä fine-tuned his craft against experienced pros like Jan Kopecky and Pontus Tidemand.
In his second round in the championship in Argentina, Rovanperä took the lead but crashed out of the event on the final day. Entering a tight left-hand corner at 160kph, he got out of shape and rolled off the road to land on the roof of a parked car. "It was a big accident. It was my fault. It was really a bad end to what had been a good rally for me."
He soon returned and took back-to-back class victories in Britain and Spain to finish third overall. In 2019, Rovanperä became the youngest winner of a WRC title as he took the inaugural WRC2 Pro title, blitzing the opposition with five victories, including Rally GB again and his first win at Rally Finland.
Rovanperä's world records
Youngest national rally champion
First WRC2 Pro world champion
Youngest WRC driver
Youngest WRC stage winner
Youngest WRC driver to place on the podium
Youngest driver to lead the WRC standings
Youngest WRC rally winner
Leaving school and joining the army
The disadvantage of starting so young is that Rovanperä has had to delay his further education. But "an opportunity like this comes your way only once in a lifetime. I can always go back to school," he says.
Military service, however, is compulsory in Finland and Rovanperä received his marching orders along with 71 other young Finnish athletes, including World Rallycross driver Jesse Kallio. He reported for duty in Helsinki in October 2019, ready to serve, but at the same time, he had a contract to race full-time in WRC with Toyota Gazoo. After serving just 10 days in the military, Rovanperä returned to rallying but must complete his military service before he turns 30.
Youngest motorsport champions
Youngest F1 World Champion: Sebastian Vettel, 2010, age 23
In 2020, Rovanperä made his debut in the top tier of World Rally with Toyota, immediately setting new records: youngest WRC driver and, in just his second event in Sweden, the youngest driver to stand on the podium in WRC history – at 19 years and 139 days.
Rovanperä was in his first season competing with seasoned pros. He was team-mates with world champion Sébastien Ogier and rally-winner Elfyn Evans. An ambitious Hyundai team was led by Ott Tänak, with Thierry Neuville and a third car shared by the legendary Loeb and Dani Sordo. But the season was cut short by the pandemic and limited to seven rounds.
Rovanperä will be racing the Drift Masters European Championship in 2023
In May of 2022, Rovanperä decided to take his interest in the sport of drifting to the next level by participating in the Drift Masters European Championship (DMEC) round in Dublin. Until that point, he’d only competed in drifting events in his native Finland. However, he did have a win to his name, with his victory at the 2021 Kokkola Venetsia Drifting competition proving that he had the potential to compete against the world’s best drifters.
At that DMEC Dublin round, equipped with a Toyota Supra modded by drift champion Daigo Saito, Rovanperä demonstrated his supreme control as he reached the final 16 from a field of 42 experienced racers.
Revealing that it was always his plan to do more international events if possible, Rovanperä also revealed what attracted him to the sport of drifting. He said: "I think what I like most about drifting is, for me, it’s more free. It’s still really hard and on the limit, just in a different way."
Finals 2 – Ireland
Mondello Park’s Japfest layout is characterised by a high-speed run-in and plenty of elevation changes.
In 2023, Rovanperä will contest four of the six rounds of the DMEC – namely the rounds in Sweden, Finland, Germany and Poland. He'll be using the Toyota Supra A90 at these events, and be supported by friends and family who will work with him in preparation of the car.
"On a competitive level, I don't have so much experience. For sure, I have now seen that the level in the DMEC is really high so we know that we have a long way to go
"I can only drive the drift car sometimes so hopefully I'll be competitive but the main goal is just to have fun and an enjoy drifting."
2023 DMEC Rounds where Kalle Rovanperä is competing
Drivecenter Arena – Fällfors, Sweden
PowerPark Huvivaltio - Alahärmä, Finland
Ferropolis - Gräfenhainichen, Germany
PGE Narodowy - Warsaw, Poland
Life as an elite international racing driver has its perks and has given Rovanperä the chance to take part in some amazing activities with other stars from the world of Red Bull. In the clip below, he teams up with snowboarder Eero Ettala for a freeride session over a frozen lake with the X Games gold medallist. Check it out:
Eero x Kalle
Kalle Rovanperä, the future WRC prodigy, and Eero Ettala, perhaps the most well known snowboarder in Finland, combine the thrill of their sports, with Rovanperä towing Ettala with his WRC2 car.
The first WRC win
With Jari-Matti Latvala replacing Mäkinen as team principal at Toyota, the 2021 season began promisingly with second place at home in Rovaniemi at the Arctic Rally. Although frustrated not to be challenging 2019 world rally champion Ott Tänak for the lead, he left Lapland as the youngest driver to lead the World Rally Championship standings.
Next was a breakthrough at Rally Estonia. Tänak again set the early pace, eager for the win on home soil, but a series of punctures ended his weekend. Rovanperä picked up the lead and held a charging Craig Breen at bay to claim their first win in WRC.
The victory made Rovanperä the youngest rally winner (aged 20 years and 290 days) in WRC history. "It has been a difficult season, and it's really nice to get my first win here in Estonia," said Rovanperä.
Rovanperä wasn't finished and added a victory at the Acropolis Rally in Greece before ending the season fourth overall.
Kalle Rovanperä wins Rally Estonia
Kalle Rovanperä rewrites history in Estonia as the 20-year-old Finn becomes the youngest ever WRC winner.
The 50th season of WRC saw the introduction of a new generation of World Rally cars, the Rally1, hybrid-powered rally cars designed to be less expensive and better for the environment. Sébastien Loeb claimed another victory at Rally Monte-Carlo before Rovanperä put his foot down and matched his father's feat of winning in Sweden.
In treacherous conditions in Croatia, however, he produced a next-level performance. "For me, this is Kalle's best performance ever," said Jari-Matti Latvala.
Coming through rain and fog, Rovanperä led all the way to Sunday afternoon when he found himself on the wrong tyres in torrential rain. Tänak took the lead by 1.5 seconds with just the Power Stage remaining, which would be played out on roads covered in thick mud. “We knew Ott has better tyres for the conditions,” said Jari-Matti Latvala. “I started to calculate how many points we were going to lose to Hyundai.
"Then, the first split [time] of Kalle appeared, and everyone was amazed. Nobody could believe how he could drive that fast. It’s a miracle. The speed was so high. How could he manage it with the hard tyres? Somehow, he did and won the stage."
Sunday highlights – Croatia
Watch Sunday's highlights on a course that's a mix of asphalt, with roads that are fast, and narrow in parts.
As well as speed and skill, this was a performance of maturity and coolness under pressure, as the Finn rose to a new level to deliver his best.
Following those wins in Sweden and Croatia, Rovanperä won in Portugal, Kenya and Estonia to put himself 72 points clear of Tänak at the top of the World Rally Championship.