World Rally Championship sensation Kalle Rovanperä is a decade further on in terms of development and driver feedback than the Toyota Gazoo Racing thought he would be when it put him in a Yaris WRC at the start of the season.
The 19-year-old has been one of the talking points from the first three rounds, with a mature World Rally Car debut bringing him home fifth on the Monte Carlo Rally.
If that proved how sensible he could be, on Rally Sweden he showed the speed – with a maiden powerstage win enough to elbow his six-time world champion team-mate Sébastien Ogier aside and land himself his first ever WRC podium with third place.
But it was México and the test prior to the León-based event which really caught the eye of Toyota technical director Tom Fowler.
“For Kalle in México, we saw this was going to happen from the test,” Fowler told DirtFish.
“I’ve been to all the tests so far this season and I was seriously impressed with how he’s approached them – especially the one for México.
“His feedback was something you’d expect from somebody with 10 more years’ experience and his expectation [from the test] was exactly at the right level. He came to get used to the car and get comfortable with a car in order to be able to drive to get to the end of the rally.
“Obviously there was a level of performance about the test, but it was really sensibly planned. If he compared set-ups he would say, ‘This one feels like it could be quickest, but I’m not 100% comfortable with it all the time, so I’d rather take the safer option in this circumstance’.
“In our briefing for the engineers there was an emphasis on making Kalle comfortable with the car and taking no risks. We talked about making sure the car had a safe set-up so he knew distinctly which set-up he would have for each stage, meaning there would be no messing around for him.
“That would let Kalle keep his head in a clear way. We thought this was our job, but when he came to the test he’d already done it for us.
“Clearly, he’s special and his start to the year has been special. It’s fair to say we’re pretty excited about what’s to come.”
Before the start of this season, Kalle’s father Harri Rovanperä talked about the level of maturity his teenage son was showing.
“You’ll see, he is like talking to a guy in his mid or late twenties,” Rovanperä told DirtFish. This is where he is now.”
He’s absolutely right.