Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala says Kalle Rovanperä is in the “same zone” as Sébastien Ogier was in 2013 with Volkswagen when he won his first World Rally Championship title.
The rally win and victory on the powerstage for Rovanperä on last weekend’s Rally Portugal marked his third successive maximum points haul, earning him a 46-point lead at the top of the championship after just four rounds.
Ogier went on an identical run nine years ago when he won both the rally and powerstage on Rally Sweden, México and Portugal to open a commanding series lead that he would ultimately convert into the world title two rounds early.
Latvala, who was Ogier’s team-mate at Volkswagen from 2013-16 and now Rovanperä’s boss as Toyota, has first-hand experience of the demoralizing effect a driver having such a dominant start can have on the rest of the field and believes Rovanperä has now shifted that pressure onto his rivals.
“For me now he’s in the same zone as Ogier was in 2013 with the Volkswagen when he had that dominance,” Latvala told DirtFish.
“He created very huge pressure for the others, and we did mistakes, with the others we did mistakes. And now he [Rovanperä] is in the same situation [where] just everything clicks together.
“He’s very calm, very patient, he’s really confident with the car, he can analyze things very well and then you get to the flow zone, and when you are in the flow everything just clicks and works together. That is where he is now.
“I think the problem is the others will take more pressure from him. Yes he is excellent, but the biggest thing is the pressure for the others now because he is so young.”
At 21 years old, Rovanperä is well on course to smash the record currently held by Colin McRae (27 years, 109 days) for the youngest World Rally champion. He will turn 22 in October.
Ogier, the reigning champion and Rovanperä’s part-time team-mate this season, has also been impressed by what he’s seen.
“Really strong, really strong,” he told DirtFish when asked for his assessment of Rovanperä’s recent form.
“[He’s] won three times in a row, three times maximum points so it didn’t happen so often that drivers win gravel rallies like this from first on the road so that’s definitely a very good run he is doing right now.”
Latvala admitted he had tipped Rovanperä for a top four finish in Portugal and certainly didn’t expect him to win in Portugal from first on the road. Rovanperä agreed.
“Yeah it was a bit unexpected, I didn’t really think on Friday that we can do a rally like this and be in a good pace all the time, but yeah a problem free rally, still pushing hard all the time and getting the maximum points was nice,” he said.
“I’m feeling really good. Of course it’s nice to have these points, we were not expecting to have so many good points here, so to have the maximum it’s quite optimal.”