Latvala didn’t believe Rovanperä could win 2022 title

Kalle Rovanperä could win the championship in Belgium - a scenario his team boss didn't see coming at the start of the year


It’s ironic in retrospect that Kalle Rovanperä slowed down to allow Toyota team-mates Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans an uninterrupted fight for last year’s World Rally Championship on the Monza Rally.

Just nine months later, ahead of round nine of this year’s WRC in Belgium, Rovanperä isn’t pulling back but streaking ahead, arriving in Ypres with his first chance to put the championship beyond the reach of his rivals.

Ogier is now a part-time player, but Evans – who beat Rovanperä by 65 points in 2021 – is some 104 points down the road after eight rallies this time around. Talk about a turnaround.

But backing Evans for this year’s title wasn’t fool’s play. Second to Ogier in both 2020 and ’21, it only seemed logical that once Ogier was onto pastures new that Evans would take that step up and get the job done in 2022.

That’s certainly what his boss Jari-Matti Latvala had anticipated.

“I was thinking in my mind that after the last year and 2020, if I’m very honest I was looking at Elfyn as one of those drivers to fight for the championship,” Latvala told DirtFish.

“But the last two seasons he’s been so close that he’s really, really hungry. So I thought there would be Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak and Elfyn fighting for the championship, and Kalle will be close by to them. But maybe I was thinking he would be still learning some of the events and then he would be ready for 2023.”

And Rovanperä will be ready for 2023, but he was ready for 2022 too. While there have admittedly been problems for others, Rovanperä has outdriven them all over the course of the season and obliterated conventional rally logic that you need several years of experience to be champion.

“I said before the season when I was asked ‘is Kalle going to be world champion this year?’ I said no,” Latvala confessed.

“I think it’s the year 2023, so I didn’t believe Kalle was ready this year. I’m honest with that opinion, so yes I’m really surprised how quickly he has developed and learned. Last year you could see the speed already there, but then he did some mistakes like going off the road in Croatia when he was leading the championship.


“And taking that experience, and learning from that experience and becoming so stable it’s been amazing to see and I would never have expected it to happen.

“But he has adapted also to the new regulations very well, he is very cool and he can adapt very quickly to the new things.”

Rovanperä’s quest to become the youngest World Rally champion will likely end soon. But could it happen in just a matter of days?

The 21-year-old isn’t wired in such a way to be thinking like that. Instead he’s simply promised to begin Ypres Rally Belgium with the “same approach as always”.

Starting first on the road could play to his favor if the expected rain falls on Friday, and that could ultimately dictate the fate of Rovanperä’s weekend. As it stands, he’s currently unsure what his greater priority is – championship points or the rally win.

“I’m a bit between them, like in Finland also,” he told DirtFish.


“It depends how it goes. If it seems we can go for the win, I always go for the win. Also, I need to have a clean rally. I want to have good points. It will make my rest of the season easier. I want to have a clever rally again.

“Hopefully on Friday the rain would be on our side this time, making it a bit easier than Finland was,” Rovanperä added.

“I wouldn’t mind if we get some help from there. After that, we have to see what happens.”