I need to do better next year.
These are not the words Kalle Rovanperä’s World Rally Championship rivals can afford to hear. But it’s exactly how world rallying’s new yardstick feels.
World champion by 50 points, claimed two rounds early after just turning 22, at first it’s nigh on impossible to believe that Rovanperä could possibly get any better than he now already is.
From as early as round three, the Toyota driver looked like a shoo-in for the world title. Confident on all surfaces, and all conditions, Rovanperä proved untouchable in the first year of the Rally1 hybrid era.
But no world champion ever rests on their laurels. Rovanperä has noticed where his weak spot this season was, and he’s keen to erase it when the scores reset in Monte Carlo in January.
“Usually always you have areas where you can improve but I think this year we have been quite consistent overall,” he told DirtFish.
“For me it’s more the thing that I always need to have the car really suitable for me, so maybe that’s one thing that I’m not always adapting, especially on Tarmac, in the best way,” he admitted.
“But yeah, when the car is working we have been also quite fast so that’s the main thing.”
It’s an interesting admission; one closely aligned with the struggles Rovanperä’s team-mate Elfyn Evans has been experiencing this year.
Evans has been quite vocal about how he’s been unable to extract the best from the GR Yaris Rally1, without the center diff that made the old Yaris WRC so tunable. Rovanperä has appeared to be above all of that.
However his asphalt form has definitely been weaker than his loose surface speed.
He did lead in Ypres but only for one stage where he got it wrong and barrel-rolled his Toyota. He was in the fight in Spain but never really looked to have the edge on team-mate Sébastien Ogier, and eventually had to give best to Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville too.
And in Japan, yes he was on the coattails of Evans and Neuville after the first full day but he never really seemed like a winner on pace alone. Then of course he ran into a rockface and his rally unravelled.
Even in Croatia, where Rovanperä monstered Ott Tänak on the powerstage, the grip and surface was perhaps more akin to gravel than it was Tarmac.
Of course, it’s all relative. Rovanperä’s speed on asphalt was still absolutely at the races this year, so it may seem almost irrelevant for him to pick it out. Particularly when next year there’s one fewer Tarmac rally on the calendar.
But welcome to the mindset of a top level rally driver. Nothing is perfect unless they’ve scored every single point available throughout the whole season. And even then it might not be good enough.
Rovanperä has so many years ahead of him that the rate he could potentially improve is, quite frankly, frightening.