Sunday January 29, 2023

Rovanperä becomes youngest-ever World Rally champion

Published : 02 Oct 2022, 22:24

  DF Report

Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen of team Toyota Gazoo Racing celebrate on the podium after winning their maiden FIA World Rally Championship title in Auckland, New Zealand on 2.10.2022. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool.

Finnish wunderkind Kalle Rovanperä obliterated the FIA World Rally Championship record books after sealing a historic title with victory at Repco Rally New Zealand on Sunday.

At 22 years and one day old, the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver becomes the youngest driver in the history of the sport to lift the crown - sweeping aside the record previously held by Colin McRae, who won in 1995 aged 27 years and 89 days, according to Bull Content Pool media release.

Rovanperä, who is co-driven by Jonne Halttunen, required seven more points than Hyundai i20 N rival Ott Tänak to seal the deal at this Auckland-based 11th round.

With a hefty lead already earned on Saturday, he remained unchallenged over Sunday’s final four gravel tests and emerged from the rally-ending Wolf Power Stage having done more than enough - heading a GR Yaris 1-2 by 34.6sec ahead of eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier as a frustrated Tänak settled for third almost 50sec behind.

This season - only Rovanperä’s third in the sport’s top-flight - proved to be nothing short of extraordinary. After a shaky start at the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo, the Finn romped to a hat-trick of successive wins in Sweden, Croatia and Portugal.

Road-opening duties at Rally Italia Sardegna left Rovanperä down in fifth but he was soon back to winning ways, triumphing in Kenya and Estonia before further extending his advantage with second overall on home soil.

The youngster’s form then took a brief downturn when he spectacularly rolled on the opening day of Ypres Rally Belgium. He also finished a lowly 15th in Greece due to another off-road excursion.

Victory in New Zealand on just his 30th start at the WRC’s elite level leaves Rovanperä with an unassailable 64-point lead over Tänak with two rounds to spare.

Jari-Matti Latvala - team principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing - stressed the importance of having a Finnish champion after a 20-year drought since Marcus Grönholm took the title in 2002.