Does part-time Rovanperä have a crashing problem?

The world champion has crashed out from two of the three rallies he has contested so far this year

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Pressure. It can make or break an athlete. Some thrive as the temperature rises, while others crumble.

But, now that the pressure is off, is Kalle Rovanperä struggling?

The 2023 world champion has demonstrated that he can handle it on plenty of occasions in the past. At the age of 23, he’s a two-time world champion. You don’t achieve feats like that if you can’t take a bit of heat.

Many expected Rovanperä to dominate Rally Portugal. He had the perfect road position and was behind the wheel of what is widely considered to be the best Rally1 car in the field. The pressure is off. There is no title to worry about. Rovanperä can just pick the rallies he enjoys and go for it. Portugal should have been one of those rallies.

Things started well enough. Rovanperä was in good form, making jokes about our own Colin Clark’s ability to use a washing machine on Friday morning, and chatting about drifting with Takamoto Katsuta.

The times were good too. He led the rally by the end of the first full day and, on Saturday’s opening stage he was untouchable. The narrow one-second gap to Sébastien Ogier he’d taken into the morning was extended to 6.7s in just 5.5 miles. It was typical Rovanperä: ruthless speed.

Then it went wrong. Very wrong. On the first run through Montim, Rovanperä was out.

In uncharacteristic fashion, he had carried too much speed into a right-hand corner and rolled his GR Yaris into a tree. Game over until Sunday.

Of course, mistakes happen, but this is the second crash for Rovanperä in just three WRC appearances. Yes, he won Safari Rally Kenya, but he’s already had more retirements than he suffered across the entire 2023 season.

The explanation was equally perplexing, at least for someone with Rovanperä’s considerable reserves of ability: “It was just a bit of confusion on the previous place with the notes. Nothing related to the crash, but then on the straight I just missed my braking for some reason.”

He also admitted: “It’s always a disappointment if you’re not on the podium or where you plan to be. But yeah, of course it’s not so crucial for us this year.”

Toyota Portugal
You know that the consequences if you do a mistake are not the same Jari-Matti Latvala

Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala believes that Rovanperä’s part-time role might be having an impact.

“The speed is there, you can see how fast he has been this year,” Latvala told DirtFish. “But of course, it’s a bit different situation because you can attack, but you know that the consequences if you do a mistake are not the same because you don’t need to go for the championship.”

So does the pressure of fighting for the title actually help keep a driver focused and more measured in their approach? Latvala thinks so: “When you have the championship back in your head, of course it holds you back a little bit more,” he said, “and I think that’s the difference.”

While two incidents are not proof of a problem, Latvala is conscious that the team can’t afford to lose points in the manufacturers’ title race. “No, for sure not,” he admitted. “But he also doesn’t want to do mistakes every rally. So, we saw a mistake in Sweden and we could see how well he was driving in Safari. OK, it just now happened a couple of times this year and we just need to keep going. We are confident that he is on the right track.”

Rovanperä’s next WRC outing is yet to be confirmed, but he is not entered for Rally Italy Sardinia in a couple of weeks’ time. A trio of high-speed gravel events follow in June, July and August.