Esapekka Lappi is “not even impressed” by Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä as he doesn’t “have any words anymore” for how to praise him following his final-stage victory on Rally Croatia.
Rovanperä started last weekend’s World Rally Championship event in Croatia as the championship leader but at a theoretical disadvantage given a crash 12 months earlier had robbed him of any experience of the stages.
The 21-year-old led the rally by over a minute on Friday and, although Hyundai’s Ott Tänak eroded that advantage on Saturday when Rovanperä punctured and then took the lead on the penultimate stage of the rally with a better tire call, Rovanperä dominated the powerstage to take a maximum 30-point score.
After the first three rounds, Rovanperä has 76 championship points from a possible 90 and holds a 29-point lead over his closest challenger Thierry Neuville.
Asked by DirtFish about his Finnish compatriot’s performance at the weekend, Lappi – who finished outside the points hitting a rock on SS1 – said: “Amazing job, I mean I don’t know where he pulled off those two wet [tires on Sunday] first of all because it was very clear from our side that it’s full dry, so luckily he took them.
“But still to manage that well and then to have such a push on the last one, I mean it’s next level. Next level. Really I’m not even impressed, I don’t have words anymore how to praise him.”
Quizzed if next level meant world champion, Lappi added: “No, I mean like…” and pointed to the sky, indicating a god-like performance.
It surprised team principal Jari-Matti Latvala too who had rather less ambitious hopes for Rovanperä’s weekend.
Stages where it’s been difficult, he’s been taking it easier and then when there’s a chance to attack, he’s been really attackingJari-Matti Latvala on Rovanperä's calculated drives
“Incredible,” Latvala told DirtFish. “We didn’t expect him to be on this kind of speed on this event. I was hoping that he would be in the top four, but I don’t know where he’s getting all this maturity.
“I have to say he’s been very clever because he’s been calculating the areas [where he can push]. Stages where it’s been difficult, he’s been taking it easier and then when there’s a chance to attack, he’s been really attacking.”
Latvala also believed that Croatia was Rovanperä’s finest WRC drive to date.
“That’s what I said already on Friday. For sure [his first win in] Estonia [was good], but he had a lot of experience [of those roads]. Last year, Acropolis, the conditions were quite tough over there, so he did a great drive.
“But this now, being the first time on the event, very first time here on the Tarmac and the performance has been brilliant. I am totally happy with him. It’s been his best performance.”
When Lappi and Latvala’s comments were put to him, Rovanperä was typically understated but did admit he couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2022 than he’s had.
“Of course, it has been going well and everything is good,” he told DirtFish.
“After this one we will have tough events when opening the road but yeah of course I’m happy everything is going well, and the driving and pace is really good.”