Rovanperä’s final skill to master

Toyota's WRC points leader has never led a gravel rally from the front before, in Portugal he'll get his first experience


He’s rapidly hurtling through the list.

World Rally Championship stage win? Check. World Rally Championship podium? Check. World Rally Championship victory? Check. World Rally Championship victory on all surfaces? Again, check.

On the evidence of the last two seasons – but particularly the early phases of 2022 – there really isn’t much that Kalle Rovanperä can’t do in a rally car.

But this week he faces arguably his toughest test yet. If he can master the difficulty of the challenge that lies ahead on Rally Portugal, he’ll move another dangerous step closer to ticking off the World Rally Championship title from his checklist too.

The challenge in question – tackling a gravel event as the championship leader.


It’s a task Sébastien Loeb used to eat for breakfast during his Citroën pomp, and one that’s long infuriated his WRC successor Sébastien Ogier. But he too found a way to mitigate the handicap of sweeping the road clean for his rivals, even when he was forced to do so for two days.

Now it’s Rovanperä’s turn.

The prodigious Finn has only ever led the world championship twice before this week’s event – and both of those times were heading onto the asphalt stages of the Croatia Rally where first on the road is often considered to be the optimum position on Friday, not the worst.

Leading the field away in four days’ time is therefore an entirely different prospect for the 21-year-old, and he’s only too aware of that.


In fact he was already thinking about it just an hour after winning Croatia when DirtFish spoke to him.

“Of course, now it has been going well and everything is good. Of course, after this one we will have tough events when opening the road but yeah, I’m happy everything is going well and the driving and pace is really good,” he said.

Pressed on his Portugal reference, Rovanperä added: “Of course, it’s going to be tough. I don’t have so much experience of being the first car on gravel, so that’s something that we need to learn and try to be clever to still bring good points.”

The need to be “clever” is totally key to what lies ahead, particularly in Portugal. The entry has swelled with both Loeb and Ogier back for another crack of the whip, so Rovanperä has 11 rivals to beat in Rally1 cars.

And lots of them will fancy their chances. Team-mate Elfyn Evans is still down in ninth and so has a brilliant road position, Ogier is one spot ahead while Hyundai’s Dani Sordo is at the very back of the field as he embarks on his first event of the season.

What Rovanperä mustn’t do is concern himself over their pace. By all accounts these three drivers, plus others like Ott Tänak (fifth on the road), should be faster than the championship leader on Friday.

The skill isn’t in beating them, it’s in keeping tabs with them. Rovanperä can’t afford to ship a minute as his weekend is then all but over, but if he can keep his deficit to half of that it’ll be as good as leading the rally as he’ll have done all that he can with what’s at his disposal.


If he can indeed master it, it’ll make his championship charge so much more robust. Does he have the patience and intelligence to do so?

This week will provide us the first hints but, given his recent form and tender age, it’s an experience the currently unpractised Rovanperä is surely set to become a veteran at in the not too distant future.