It was a matter of time. Kalle Rovanperä has taken a holiday of sorts from rallying, going part-time in the World Rally Championship, to take a moment to savor the finer things in life and experiment a bit.
Swapping public roads and pace notes for closed circuits was always on the cards. The question was when and how. And now we know part of the answer: Rovanperä’s circuit racing debut won’t be in a Toyota at all – instead, he’s heading for Porsche Carrera Cup Benelux.
The two-time world champion had already diversified his racing activities by participating in drifting, including top-level series like Formula Drift Japan and Drift Masters Europe – but the Porsche Carrera Cup will represent his first step into traditional circuit racing.
Rovanperä will drive a 992-generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car prepared by RedAnt Racing in four of the Benelux series’ six races, with the four races in question still to be announced. The series’ calendar features races at Spa-Francorchamps, Zandvoort, Imola, Assen, Red Bull Ring and Zolder – a fine selection of circuits for Rovanperä to choose from.
“It has been a long time in my mind to compete in circuit racing,” said Rovanperä. “It will be a big challenge for me but I’m really excited. I think the Benelux series is quite good; there’s young drivers and also those with a lot of experience, so it will be a big challenge for me against them. But it will be a good learning experience for me.”
Since his step up to the top level of WRC, Rovanperä’s never been seen driving anything other than a Toyota. In Drift Masters Europe, his weapon of choice was a Supra; in Formula Drift, a Corolla. Driving a Porsche, while still a Toyota driver, required his day job’s blessing – which he’s very grateful to have received.
“It was really cool to see that the team is supporting me so much with these projects,” Rovanperä added. “They know it’s my passion to do these things and they support the drivers a lot. So I was really happy to hear that the team is supporting my project in circuit racing.”
He might be taking a part-time approach to rallying this year but it could also be argued that Rovanperä’s schedule may not end up being particularly light, either.
There are four races in his Carrera Cup calendar but he’ll be doing additional testing on top of that. He still wants to be competitive, after all. Meanwhile, in rallying, he rocked up to Rovaniemi for the Arctic Lapland Rally, accruing valuable extra mileage ahead of Rally Sweden next week.
A part-time season doesn’t mean phoning in the preparation, it seems. But Rovanperä considers the extra effort of doing these temporary side hustles properly worth it.
“It gives me an extra boost because it’s something new,” he said. “It’s always more interesting when you have new challenges and I’m really looking forward to the kind of feeling I’ll have racing there.
“It’s going to be so different to rallying. But I’m sure I can try to take it quite easy, let’s say; I don’t have big pressure on myself, I just want to go there and see how I do. We have a proper plan to do good testing and get myself fast in the car, hopefully. I’m still a racer so I want to do well.
And his new team manager in circuit racing, Marc Goosens, is convinced that Rovanperä will do well.
“After conversations with his engineering crew from rally, I understand that in addition to his talent, he also has the right work ethic to build success in a professional manner,” said Goosens. “I am very motivated, and can’t wait to support Kalle in his transition to circuit racing.”
His circuit racing exploits are unlikely to be limited to these four Carrera Cup outings. Rovanperä is expected to participate in the Super Taikyu Fuji 24 Hours race on May 25-26, driving a Toyota GR86 carbon-neutral fuel concept car.
Toyota WRC team principal Jari-Matti Latvala will also participate in the same race but driving a different car within the ROOKIE Racing stable, partnering with Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda in a GR Corolla H2 concept. Latvala has participated in the Fuji 24 Hours for the past two years.
But of course, Latvala is at the end of his career behind the wheel. He drives only for fun now. Rovanperä still has a long future ahead of him, with many pathways still open to him.
Some rally fans wondered if, rather than a quick rest year before coming back to rallying fully charged, it was the beginning of the end for Rovanperä in the WRC.
So, it begs the question – are those fans right to be afraid?
“I don’t think you need to be afraid of that, at least not for many years,” he said reassuringly. “I’m still fully focusing on rallying for the next years – but this year is a bit different. So I want to use the opportunity to see different things and enjoy.”