How Rovanperä plans to avenge his Croatian demons

WRC points leader Kalle Rovanperä crashed three minutes into the Croatia Rally in 2021. He doesn't plan to repeat that mistake


Kalle Rovanperä is the man of the moment in the World Rally Championship right now. Sitting at the top of the standings with a handsome 14-point margin courtesy of a Rally Sweden win and fourth on the Monte Carlo Rally, the momentum is with him.

But there’s a very real argument that next week’s Croatia Rally is the toughest test Rovanperä will face all season – and not just because it’ll give us a chance to see how he deals with protecting an early series lead.

Last year, Rovanperä’s Croatia Rally lasted all of three minutes and 25 seconds. Approaching a fast right-hander, his Yaris WRC slid wide on the slippery asphalt and rolled down a bank on the very first stage. The damage was too great for him to continue on Friday or indeed any of the further legs of the event.

“Basically it was just a slippy place for us and yeah, we couldn’t really make it through the corner,” Rovanperä tells DirtFish, rewinding his mind 12 months.


But he wasn’t the only one to be challenged by this particular corner. Rovanperä’s team-mate Sébastien Ogier was next on the scene. Arriving three minutes after Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen had just rolled, the Finnish pair hadn’t managed to make it back up the bank to warn Ogier of the danger.

Ogier too slid his Yaris WRC but not as wide as Rovanperä. The rear stepped out, hung over the edge of the bank and was only saved by a rock that bounced the car back onto the road and Ogier continued on his way.

“It was a tricky place,” says Rovanperä, “I remember when I was out the car and I was planning to go up to show the sign and to show my team-mates the slippy place, I just saw Séb’s car, like half of the underfloor from down on the bank, and I could see half of his car hanging over the edge and I was thinking ‘yeah, that’s close!’ He got through but yeah it was close.”


But enough about last year’s crash – as interesting a nugget as that was – what’s important is the situation it leaves Rovanperä in this year. While the majority of his rivals (Esapekka Lappi and Oliver Solberg notwithstanding) have one year’s worth of experience of the stages, Rovanperä will be on the back foot. Starting from zero.

“Yeah I think for sure it’s going to be more tricky for me this year,” he concedes. “Because anyway it was a new event for everybody and it seems that it was quite a tricky one with the grip and the conditions, everybody was saying that the stages are quite tricky with the grip and also with the videos it seems the grip was changing all the time and stuff.

“So yeah, everybody has now one more year of experience there so I think it’s going to be a bit difficult for us, but yeah, we have been in that situation also before and we just try to manage that the best way possible.”

It’s an important point Rovanperä raises – he spent most of the last two seasons learning rallies and having to fight against his rivals who had all done them several times before. So in a sense it’s nothing new, but it’s still a costly handicap he’ll have to overcome.

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One weapon in his arsenal as first on the road could be the ability to cut the corners and pollute the racing line for his rivals behind.

“To be honest I need to see the condition and the stages before I know,” Rovanperä responds when asked if he would consider this tactic.

“Of course, that is something many of the guys do when you have a clean road and you can have the same grip just going a bit off the road and making a mess. But yeah, it depends a lot on the stage and the condition.

“If it’s not really beneficial to you it’s not really clever to do it if it’s slowing you down, so for sure then you don’t do it.”

At least Rovanperä is confident in his setup. He famously struggled on the Monte Carlo Rally, even trailing a Rally2 car after the first evening, before executing a massive turnaround and fighting back to fourth overall and a powerstage win three days later.

The 21-year-old found that feeling once more on his pre-event test last week.


“Yeah it was quite positive for me at least, I felt a lot better in the car than last time on Tarmac for sure. So yeah, that was positive and I felt that we could still make some steps all the time to improve the car, so at least the direction is now correct for us.

“It’s nice to see we did the correct thing in Monte and now it’s already a much closer area where we should have been starting Monte. Now I feel that we are at least hopefully closer to the right area of the car.

“I think the overall balance of the car is just now in the right place, giving me the confidence basically, just a much more different feeling on the front and rear axles balance-wise. It’s a bit more of a balanced car now and that’s something I normally enjoy more.”

Time will tell if Rovanperä will be as buoyant next Sunday, but it’s clear he’s not too fazed by the demons he needs to slay in Croatia.