Reigning world champion Kalle Rovanperä will not compete full-time in the 2024 World Rally Championship.
Has that sunk in fully yet? The idea that the 23-year-old would one day step back from the WRC always felt likely, but for him to reduce his commitment for one season only… who genuinely saw that coming?
Regardless, it certainly changes the dynamic of the 2024 title race. With Rovanperä not around all the time, realistically three contenders remain: Elfyn Evans, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak.
But with Rovanperä returning to full-time action in 2025, would any potential title success for those three (or indeed anyone else) be cheapened by the fact it was claimed without the presence of the world champion?
We asked our writers that very question, and these are their thoughts:
2024 won’t be remembered for Rovanperä
Ten years. Make that five. Maybe even two… That’s how long it will take for folk to forget that Kalle Rovanperä didn’t contest a full season of rallies in 2024.
He’s going to do six or seven events next year, so he and Jonne Halttunen will still be plenty visible in the service park across the season. And I firmly believe the intensity of the championship fight will be such that Kalle’s bit-part will be a story which fades quickly as next year unfolds.
It was the same in 2013 when Sébastien Loeb competed on four rounds, having won the previous year’s title (his ninth on the bounce). When the Frenchman topped the podium in Rally Argentina, landing his second win and third podium in three starts from the first five rounds, the story had already switched.
The narrative was all about the new king of France, and indeed the world: Sébastien Ogier.
Pre-season, the media collectively clamoured for a genuine Séb versus Séb scrap in 2013. But soon moved on.
And you try telling Ogier his maiden world championship means any less because Loeb wasn’t there. It doesn’t.
And it won’t next season.
Granted, it’s a four-way fight turned to a three-way tussle, but two of those guys – Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville – are chasing their first crown and Ott Tänak is desperate for a second. It’s going to be a fascinating year in terms of the title tilt and then we’ve got part-timers Rovanperä, Ogier and Esapekka Lappi sticking their oars in and their hands up for a rally win or two.
Kalle’s already talking about being back full-time in 2025 and the years beyond that.
Forget two years, by the time we’re two rallies into the 2025 season nobody will remember his part-time 2024.
Title will be worth the same as any other
I don’t think the value of the 2024 WRC title will be cheapened at all by this news. Anyone who’s going to win the title next year will be beating some combination of an existing world champion (Ott Tänak), and five-time vice-champion (Thierry Neuville) and a now-three-time vice-champion (Elfyn Evans). That’s formidable competition, and stronger even then many WRC seasons of the past.
Plus they will have taken on all of the different terrains, weather and total curve balls that WRC throws at a driver. So to me, next year’s title will be worth the same as any other in WRC history.
Perhaps the greatest thing Rovanperä’s news robs the other drivers of is the opportunity to dethrone the reigning world champion, who many feel has the potential to even be the G.O.A.T. That’s an achievement that any driver would want on their CV, rather than being the winner in the year that the great man stood aside.
But once we get into the throws of next season, and if the title fight between the WRC’s new big three is as intense as we all hope it is, then none of them will be thinking that the battle is somehow cheapened by the fact that Rovanperä isn’t in it.
They’ll be far too focused on beating their fierce rivals at every available opportunity, and the rest of us will be watching on and marveling at the talents of world’s best drivers. Just as we’ve marveled at Rovanperä’s incredible driving over the past two years.
Hindsight could be decisive
Whether this scenario would bother a driver ultimately depends on how much they care about legacy. Is winning the world title enough for them personally, or do they need to actually be remembered for it?
If the latter carries weight, then a part-time Rovanperä is a bad thing. But if not, Rovanperä’s decision shouldn’t cheapen any potential championship win. All the driver can do is be the best in the circumstances that they are in. If that means fighting one less driver, who cares?
As for the wider perception, hindsight could be the key element to fully understanding this question.
Right now, as it stands, I would have to say no – the absence of Rovanperä doesn’t make a difference; for all of the above reasons about the winner being the best of those circumstances. Nobody for example tries to claim that Ott Tänak is a more worthy champion than Colin McRae because he won it over a 13-round season, not eight.
But hindsight might not reflect too well on whoever the 2024 champion is, because of the potential for Rovanperä to rock back up in 2025 and show them all the way again.
I don’t think there’s many that doubt Kalle is the king right now, and keeping his hand-in next year while also recharging the batteries must make him a hot favorite already for ’25.
So if the 2024 champion – whether that be Evans, Neuville, Tänak or someone else – grabs their chance next year but is beaten for the remaining years by Rovanperä, down the line their success may be reflected on by many as achievable ‘just because Rovanperä wasn’t there’.