The pacenote change that helped Rovanperä to WRC glory

Five years ago, after a difficult first WRC2 start in Wales, a teenage Kalle Rovanperä made a vital change


It’s easy to get distracted by how ridiculously young Kalle Rovanperä is. Becoming a world champion a day after turning 22 is incredible. It’s like he was an oven-ready rally driver, already the finished product before he got near a WRC car.

That’s simply not true, though. Like anyone, there were mistakes on the way there. He’s had the odd crash here and there, sure. But more than that, there was one critical area he’d been getting wrong and needed to fix before moving up to the big leagues: his pacenotes.

Rally GB 2017, his WRC2 debut, was the rally Rovanperä realized he was in trouble. That he needed to bin his entire way of working and start with a blank sheet of paper.

Jonne Halttunen had only months earlier taken over as his co-driver from Risto Pietiläinen, who’d co-driven Kalle’s father Harri in the latter part of the one-time Rally Sweden winner’s career. He’d suggested it was time for Rovanperä take a new approach to writing his notes. Such a big change was, naturally, planned for the off-season.


But barely scraping into the top 10 WRC2 stage times in Wales for most of Rally GB had been a wakeup call. It couldn’t wait that long.

“When we did his first WRC event in Wales, it was quite difficult,” Halttunen told DirtFish. “Immediately, on the airplane going back [after the rally], he said ‘OK, show me the new pacenotes, I want to change everything because it was so difficult’.”

Until then a 16-year-old Rovanperä had been racking up plenty of wins in Finland and Latvia. But the rigors of a WRC round exposed his key weakness: being fast on its own would not be enough. He needed to be more diligent.

“Kalle was already quite a good driver but the way he made pacenotes, to be honest, that was quite poor,” explained Halttunen.


“He made all these national rallies that lasted a day or something, so the whole concept of a WRC rally was new to him. And how to prepare for the rallies, he didn’t watch any videos before or do much planning before the event; he just went to the rally and basically it was easy for him.

“But in WRC rallies it’s not that easy, everything is so different.”

The problem? He was focusing on the wrong thing when writing his notes. They weren’t describing the road – they were describing the driving. This, it transpired, wasn’t an effective strategy, as Halttunen explains.

“First Kalle, when he did the national rallies, his pacenotes were describing the speed, how fast to go into the corner,” he said. “This is something they used in the 90s and he learned this from Harri. But this is something they used in the past; nowadays nobody uses it anymore. So, we had to teach him.

In the end, every corner had plus or minus, so there were lots of words but not so much information Jonne Halttunen

“He had to learn how to describe the road, not the speed. That was the first thing. Also, the way, he had five different pacenotes and he always had plus or minus in each one of them. In the end, every corner had plus or minus, so there were lots of words but not so much information.

“I had already done basically new pacenotes for Kalle; this is something our manager wanted me to do. So, I copied a lot of stuff that Esapekka {Lappi] and Juho [Hänninen] had, and also maybe Teemu Suninen. And also, some things that I have also found during my career that would be good, some things that Kalle used.”

Ask people in the know about Citroën’s WRC pre-event tests in the early 2010s and there’s an interesting anecdote about speed. Kimi Räikkönen would often be faster on the same bit of road than nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb.

There’s an important reason why that testing speed never translated into results: Räikkönen was never really too invested in driving to the notes.


As it transpires, Rovanperä had been guilty of the same thing. But that difficult weekend in Wales had been the wakeup call he’d needed.

“In the national rallies you can memorize the stages quite well and the pacenotes are not so important,” said Halttunen.

“So then he said, OK, now we change it completely then. I had only made up this layout; he wanted to make some changes, he wanted to change some words and we took a lot of stuff…I did the basic setup for the pacenotes and then he tuned it up himself.

“After that, I would say we found some stuff on the stages that it’s hard to describe, that we always tried to find some new word or something for it. So, it still evolved quite a bit.

“Nowadays it’s something that we do together, working with the pacenotes. It’s really good and really informative. I’m not saying so many words, but it has lots of information inside of it.”

Five seasons later and you’d have no idea Rovanperä had ever struggled. But that, after all, is the mark of a champion: the only way to grow is to face setbacks and learn from them. And Rovanperä was always a driver to learn quickly.