2023 will show how great Rovanperä really is

Already atop the rallying world, how Kalle performs this season will tell us just how special he is


In becoming world champion, you’d think the questions would stop. After a driver’s proven they can top the world, everything else that happens from here is just a bonus, right?

Not quite.

Nobody is asking if Kalle Rovanperä can be a World Rally champion anymore (not that many were at any point), and there are no longer any grey areas about whether he can hack the pressures of consistently fighting at the front of the WRC.

But Rovanperä faces a whole new kind of pressure, and line of questioning, this season. The pressure of having a target on his back – being the one they all desperately want to beat. Can Rovanperä prove 2022 was no anomaly, and win again in 2023?

Ask anybody that six months ago, and the answer would have been a resounding yes. Rovanperä’s command over the WRC in the first half of 2022 wasn’t even Sébastien Loeb or Ogier-esque; it was better.

As soon as Rovanperä overturned that 1.4-second deficit to Ott Tänak on the Croatia Rally powerstage to win by 4.3s, and then backed that up with a Rally Portugal win from first on the road (the first time he’d started at the head of the field on the first day of a gravel round), it was clear the title had already been won.

That coronation in New Zealand was a beautiful and historic moment, but certainly not a surprising one. Those particular scribbles had been on that particular wall for months beforehand.


But the final third of Rovanperä’s campaign was less convincing. Things first unravelled in Ypres where he crashed from the lead on the second stage. A bit of pre-stage chaos was rumored to be a factor but Rovanperä quickly dismissed such talk – and besides, he could be forgiven such a mistake given he’d only finished outside the top two once on the previous seven rallies.

But then Acropolis happened. Undeniably hampered by running first on the road on a Friday where, unusually, no Rally1 cars retired meant he was never on for a spectacular result, but then he made a mistake again – running wide, clipping a tree and transforming his Toyota into a limited edition GR Yaris race buggy.

New Zealand, and an impressive rally and powerstage victory to seal the title in style, reversed his fortunes and the mishaps of Belgium and Greece were swiftly forgotten as the rallying world moved to toast the new youngest world champion in history at just 22 years and one day old.


And as a result, what happened from there on didn’t really matter. Certainly not in the context of the current season. Ogier bested Rovanperä in a Rally Spain showdown where Rovanperä didn’t look quite as up for it as he had in the past, and threw away a shot at victory in Japan when he made a mistake and thwacked a rockface.

Rovanperä’s mission was complete, so this declining form was of no concern to him, Jonne Haltunnen or Toyota. After all, he was far from the first world champion to drop the intensity after claiming the title early – remember Marcus Grönholm’s bizarre Rally GB crash in 2002 where he admitted he was having a joke with Timo Rautiainen in the car?

But here’s the thing. That may not worry Rovanperä as such, but it will most definitely provide his rivals with reassurances now that the scores are reset to zero.

The Rovanperä of 12 months ago would have been practically unbeatable, but the Rovanperä of the last six months ago won’t strike quite the same fear into Tänak, Thierry Neuville, Elfyn Evans and co.

WRC points January-June 2022:

Pos Driver Points
1 Kalle Rovanperä 145
2 Thierry Neuville 80
3 Ott Tänak 62
4 Elfyn Evans 57

WRC points July-December 2022:

Pos Driver Points
1 Ott Tänak 143
2 Thierry Neuville 113
3 Kalle Rovanperä 110
4 Elfyn Evans 77

It all adds weight to the theory too that as brilliant as Rovanperä was last year, the task was made a touch more straightforward for him as none of his rivals were able to produce a truly credible challenge.

And, at least on paper, that shouldn’t be the case in 2023.


Hyundai is a far stronger challenger than it was this time 12 months ago, and in Neuville it has a clear team leader and doggedly determined competitor whose career mission is still incomplete with five second place trophies but no WRC title to his name.

Tänak has migrated from Hyundai to an M-Sport Ford outfit that will similarly mould itself around him to ensure he gets that second world title he so badly craves.

And although Rovanperä’s team-mate Evans struggled to keep tabs with the flying Finn last term, he’s been working hard to mould himself to the GR Yaris Rally1 and the proof was in the pudding in Japan where Evans was unlucky not to win.

Rovanperä, of course, isn’t going backwards. And in their purest form, those second half of the season statistics flatter to deceive. Nobody would be as foolish as to suggest that Rovanperä didn’t deserve to win the title last year.

WRC_2022_Rd.11_516 (2)

But this year he can prove beyond doubt just how great he is. It’s to Rovanperä’s credit that he was the only one capable of getting on top of Rally1 so quickly, but a world championship won after an intense season-long fight with multiple contenders will be arguably an even greater achievement.

He could of course blow them all into the weeds again.

But the underlying point remains. With Rovanperä, Tänak and Neuville in particular all seemingly in the best place to fight for the world title, 2023 should provide Rovanperä with the chance to dispel any doubts that have crept in over the last few months. Win this year, and there’ll be no more questions to ask.

He was always destined for greatness. Now it’s time to see how long he can sustain it.