What did you do on your 21st birthday? Consume a touch too much liquor perhaps? Enjoy an evening with your friends?
Kalle Rovanperä won’t be doing any of that – it’s not really his style. The Finn, who celebrates his birthday tomorrow, will be firing his Toyota Yaris WRC down the forest lanes outside Jyväskylä. He’ll be in his happy place.
But he isn’t really too hyped up about his 21st birthday. To Rovanperä, it’s just Friday in Rally Finland. His answer to DirtFish’s question about the opportunity to drive on his home event of the WRC on his birthday is typical of his mentality.
“I didn’t really think about it so much,” he says.
“After I turned 18 I haven’t been counting anymore so much, so it’s not so important for me.”
Eighteen of course was the age he was old enough to hold a valid drivers’ license and therefore fully begin his journey to conquer the world of rallying.
It’s a journey that promises a spectacular ending. Two years with Škoda Motorsport netted Rovanperä a WRC2 Pro title in 2019 before his promotion to the big league with Toyota Gazoo Racing last year.
Rovanperä has already become the youngest podium finisher, rally leader and rally winner in WRC history, so at face value it’s been a breeze. But there was a slight blip through the mid-part of 2021 where things were a bit rocky.
“I think it has been a bit of a difficult season so far,” he admits. “But I always knew that we could do these good results when we just got the clean races with no issues.
“There were many things I couldn’t really do anything about and [there were] my own mistakes, so I knew when I can get the whole package together we can have a good result.”
That ‘whole package’ certainly seems to be in place, and then some. Rovanperä has been supreme over the last three rallies, winning both Estonia and the Acropolis and scoring a podium nobody tipped him for in Ypres.
It means he has scored 20 more points than Thierry Neuville, 26 more than Sébastien Ogier and practically double what Elfyn Evans has managed (73 to 37) over the last three events. And this story hasn’t even reached its crescendo.
This weekend will be the first opportunity Rovanperä gets to drive a top-line car on his home event. Yes, there was Arctic Rally Finland back in February, but Jyväskylä is the place where heroes are made.
“Of course it’s really exciting to be here in Rally Finland with the WRC car, it’s always one of the most enjoyable events of the season,” Rovanperä says, daring to show some emotion.
“It’s really a nice event that you can enjoy a lot. It’s always nice and to be honest I don’t really feel so big pressure yet, but let’s see how the race is starting and how I feel then.”
Unperturbed, relaxed and calculated is what Rovanperä has already proved he does best, but there is significant pressure on his young shoulders – even if he isn’t feeling it.
There is for any Finn competing on Rally Finland, but the home fans have watched Estonian Ott Tänak boss the show for the last two editions and will be gasping for home rule to reestablish itself – particularly on the 70th anniversary of this classic event.
And arriving here in this form only strengthens the thesis that Finland is Rovanperä’s for the taking. Surely only a win will do?
“It always depends how the result comes, it’s difficult to say before the weekend,” Rovanperä cautions.
“Of course the win is something you want to aim for when you are in a home event and an event that should be good for you, so of course that’s the goal what you want to achieve, and let’s see after the weekend if we are happy or not.
Normally there is a lot of support for us and it feels special because you know all the family and friends are there that normally are not following the rally in other countriesKalle Rovanpera
“I think for me it would be best just to approach it like any other event,” he adds.
“Of course it’s not so easy as you know it’s your home event, you cannot really forget that at any point, but of course I try and just aim for a good result like always and try and be in the fight for the win.
“It’s not easy when we are here first time [in the World Rally Car], even though it’s our home rally it’s not going to be easy.”
Equally though, the WRC’s most recent winner knows that he’s in for a “really nice” weekend. The fans may be expecting, but they’ll also be 100% behind Rovanperä to push him on towards a top result.
“Of course there is a lot of people and I hope now there will be a lot of fans also.
“Normally there is a lot of support for us and it feels special because you know all the family and friends are there that normally are not following the rally in other countries, so yeah of course it’s very special when you know everybody is with you and supporting you.
“The stages look in really good condition so far,” he adds.
“It has been dry now for a while and they are really compact compared to the summer time, not so much loose gravel so it seems that if it stays like this, the condition can be really good and fast. So far it feels good.”
It could feel even better if the stars align and Rovanperä rocks up in Jyväskylä as the 21st Finn to win Rally Finland. This, of course, on his 21st birthday weekend.
Some things are just meant to be, aren’t they?