Rovanperä’s back – but he never left the chat

David Evans reflects on a hugely important weekend for the world champion

Toyota Portugal

Kalle Rovanperä is back. Which is quite something, considering he hadn’t actually been anywhere. The world champion hadn’t even considered leaving the chat.

Sitting down to write this column, there are so many different avenues to go down.

Is it Dani Sordo’s outstanding and enormously emotional Craig Breen-inspired drive? No. That deserves space of its own. That’s for later in the week.

Was it Elfyn Evans’ monstrous accident? We’ve dealt with that. The headline from that is two-fold: Evans and co-driver Scott Martin walked away is the priority, but we have to pay tribute to the work, once again, that the FIA has done on the chassis development of Rally1.

Hyundai’s blowers? Stay tuned for more on that.

Donuts? Now, there’s plenty to say on that front. And plenty will be said once we’ve gathered some more thoughts. But I’ll ask you one quick question: how many people would remember so vividly, or with such intense fever, Colin McRae’s championship-winning celebrations at Chester Racecourse in 1995 without the Saltire-waving Subaru-spinning donut-fest?

Exactly. Stay tuned, we’ll come back to you on that.


Now, Kalle.

Had he been off-form, out-of-sorts? Yes he had. He’s told us himself as much now. There’s been some personal stuff going on in the background and that has inevitably impacted on his focus.

And professionally, he’s never been busier than he’s been since Sunday October 2, 2022 – the day he was crowned World Rally champion in Auckland.

From there, he was to and from Japan on factory visits, no end of partner glad-handing, awards ceremonies galore, media, media, media, pre-season testing and possibly a day or two on snowmobile with his mates. Maybe.

Admittedly, he’s not out there digging ditches for 10 hours a day, but the schedules been demanding, hectic and a lot for a 22-year-old who, ideally, just wants to hop into his Supra, get on the happy stick and lay down another dream drift.

He started the year with a super-strong Monte, 18.8 seconds down on team-mate and acknowledged king of the mountains Sébastien Ogier, but with a powerstage win. Sweeping the road in Sweden sacrificed any chance of a win in Umeå. And México?

Hmm, OK. México he might have been a bit sub-par.

For me, the biggest Rovanperä juxtaposition came in Croatia. Last year he was superman. The rain came and Kalle laughed in its face. On the wrong tires. He drove the most astonishing final stage to snatch victory from Ott Tänak’s Hyundai. That was two from three. Three from four came in Matosinhos this weekend last year.

The Jyväskylä rockstar left Portugal 46 points to the good.

And now? After what’s been reported as something of a shocking and, before this weekend, winless seven months, what’s the score?

Err… the champ is 17 clear of everybody and leading his title defense from the front.

He’s back on track?


He’s back to his best?


Very much so. Starting Portugal second on the road, Rovanperä didn’t give himself much of a shot – especially with Friday’s opening day being so rough, so loose. Second stage of the afternoon and he’d moved eight-tenths clear of Sordo to lead. For the remainder of the day, he couldn’t quite shake the Spaniard (testament as much to Dani’s belligerent brilliance as anything).

He didn’t force it. He stayed calm, brought the GR Yaris Rally1 back to service at the end of day one, 10 to the good and hatched a plan for Saturday morning.


Half-seven, somewhere just south of the Spanish border and sitting alongside a chintzy house with a worrying number of plastic cats in the garden, Rovanperä climbed out of his Toyota and yawned.

“Too early,” he smiled. He answered our questions, did a bit of stretching, wobbled his wrists, blinked a couple of times, tightened his belts and took 12 seconds out of the world’s best drivers in 16 miles.

That effort through Vieira do Minho was something else.

Typically, there was little more than a shrug when he pulled up, 16m50.6s after launching the Yaris off the line.

“I just woke up today,” he smiled, “and thought we should drive a bit of a rally.”

If we’ve learned one thing from this fella, it’s that he does things his way. If the stars align, he’ll make his way rapidly to the moon and back

That time was planned, the timing strategic.

Rovanperä had woken up while his rivals had hit snooze.

His first victory since New Zealand, half a year ago, was crafted in that moment.

We needed more.

“Yes,” he beamed. “It was the plan. You start to push and a few corners into the stages, thr grip was really low and quite tricky.”

He paused and just briefly, momentarily, I ridiculously thought he was going to talk of lifting and taking it steady.

“I pushed more, because I know if somebody backs off a bit, you can gain a lot of time.

“So, yeah, then you just go crazy.”

Toyota Portugal

And crazy he went. Ruthlessly controlled crazy, that is.

The ice-cool Finn demolished everybody. And with that done, he continued with more of the same for the rest of the day.

Across the service park, folk reached for the obvious line. This was, without a doubt, his best day in the WRC. Ever.


Only one man knew.

“No,” he said. “It was good, but it wasn’t the best.”

Celebrating the perfect 30 on the back of a powerstage win a day later, Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen conceded they were back.


Very much so.

Back on song.

Toyota Portugal

What now? Win from the front in Sardinia? Not according to Kalle.

If we’ve learned one thing from this fella, it’s that he does things his way. If the stars align, he’ll make his way rapidly to the moon and back. If they don’t, he’ll lift a load of points and deliver the sort of consistency that underpins title after title.

Leaving Portugal on Sunday night, it was hard to ignore the feeling of inevitability.

Rovanperä was smiling his smile again – although that’s got as much to do with his imminent Drift Masters Europe appearances as his total domination of round five.