We’ve only had one rally in 2021 to build a formbook from, and only eight World Rally Championship events in total to measure Kalle Rovanperä’s ability in a World Rally Car to date. But he heads into next week’s Arctic Rally Finland as a would-be first time WRC victor according to many.
What do DirtFish’s world rallying experts think about the latest flying Finn’s prospects on snow-covered home soil?
David Evans: Can we be serious? Can we really consider Kalle Rovanperä as a favorite for this rally? Yes. We. Can.
The opening round of the 2020 Finnish Rally Championship was his first time out competing in a Toyota Yaris WRC. What happened? He took three-and-a-half minutes out of everybody in 120 competitive miles. Admittedly, everybody else was in a Rally2 car, but still…
Actually, forget the margin. Look past the times and get yourself onto YouTube and watch some of the onboard action from that rally. It was sensational.
Yes, it was desperately fast, but it was also cool, calm and completely collected.
Don’t forget, for the last 12 years, this dude’s been skipping school every time the local lake iced over enough to take the weight of him and a Toyota Starlet to do some big skids instead of double maths.
He’s a natural in the car, he’s got massive speed, commitment and talent and he’s already got sufficient rallycraft way, way beyond his years.
Put all of that in a car born on and for roads like the ones we’ll see next week and I think we’re safe to rank him right at the top.
(By the way, the intel on him missing school might be wide of the mark – just in case his former teachers are reading…)
Luke Barry: Both my heart and my head are screaming at me, saying yes: Rovanperä is the favorite for Arctic Rally Finland. How can’t he be? He’s the only man we’re talking about.
But in the off chance Kalle is spending an evening reading DirtFish, can I also say no so as to not add even more weight to the hype that is surrounding him this week?
It’s to Rovanperä’s credit that the pundits have seemingly forgotten about either of his team-mates Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans – who don’t forget, won on the last occasion the WRC headed to (kind of) snow-covered tracks.
The 20-year-old has an affinity with fast rally stages and Arctic certainly delivers on that score. He also has good experience of the rally when it wasn’t a world championship round, arguably has the fastest World Rally Car at his disposal and of course snow is the only surface Rovanperä has scored a podium on thus far.
My slight fear now is we’ve all built him up onto such a pedestal that even if he claims a second place (which would be his best WRC result) we’ll all be disappointed.
For me, the only man that’s potentially likely to better Rovanperä is Ott Tänak – particularly if running further down the order proves to be a huge advantage. It’s easy to forget that Tänak was second in Sweden last year – ahead of Rovanperä – and won on the snow in 2019.
Tänak revels when the going gets blindingly quick too, so we could be in for an epic Toyota versus Hyundai battle in the Arctic Circle.
Colin Clark: Rovanperä favorite to win? Don’t be daft, of course he isn’t. But can Rovanperä win Arctic Rally Finland? Well that’s an entirely different matter
The issue here is that there isn’t really one outright favorite to win this event. I genuinely believe that any of three factory Hyundai drivers, any of the three Toyota drivers and even an on-form Sunninen in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC are all capable of claiming the top step of that podium come Sunday afternoon.
There are just so many undetermined variables that we have to factor into the equation that really we won’t know the answers to until the cars hit the stages.
How will the road evolve? These roads have never seen so much WRC machinery tearing up the surface and opinions differ as to how that will effect performance.
Some are suggesting position four or five on the road is optimal, while others are suggesting the further back you are the better.
How will the snow dust affect performance? On the face of it, Ogier will be massively hampered by running first on the road – but could clear vision for the reigning champion compensate for the ploughing effect he’s sure to encounter?
Then there’s the ever-present threat of weather having a say in the outcome. Snow is in the seven day forecast and we all know that fresh, falling snow will have a massive effect on the timesheets.
So a resounding no to Rovanperä being favorite – this is possibly the most open event we’ve seen in years.
Alasdair Lindsay: Arctic Rally Finland presents a window of opportunity for Rovanperä. But does that mean he’s first in the queue to jump through the window and take the silverware?
I’m not so sure.
Kalle – so long as he’s making the podium regularly – is not going to be under big pressure to notch up rally wins in 2021.
Remember, his debut season in the WRC’s top class only had seven rallies, so it’s more like he’s had half a season’s experience, not a full year. He will be in the running, certainly; he’s got the car to make it happen and it’s a brand new event for the WRC, which acts as a great leveler against his more experienced rivals. He’s got a better chance to break his duck here than pretty much anywhere else, that much is true.
Instead, I’m going to be a spoilsport and suggest there is no favorite for victory this weekend. I reckon there will be drivers willing to put more on the line to get victory than Kalle; not because Kalle doesn’t want it as much (I’m sure he does!), but others will be taking more of a win-or-bust mentality into the rally.
This rally is make-or-break for another Finn: Teemu Suninen.
For 11-and-a-half minutes in Monte Carlo, he’d brought M-Sport back to the sharp end of the order before rolling out of the rally. That was one of a few moments where he’s had rally-winning pace but failed to follow through with the final result.
Rally Sweden 2019 is the perfect example, where he fought for the lead until ditching his Fiesta into a snowbank.
No rally will present as golden an opportunity for a first Suninen WRC win like this one. And he’s only got half a season’s worth of rallies to make an impression in 2021, given Adrien Fourmaux will be nicking his seat later in the year.
Kalle will be very, very fast. Podium contender, without a doubt. But winner? Let’s see whose nerves hold out the longest.