Kalle Rovanperä is now comfortably the World Rally Championship’s youngest ever champion at 22 years and just one day old.
You of course knew that, because it’s a statistic that’s rightfully done the rounds after Rovanperä’s extraordinary rise to stardom – and stupendous 2022 season.
But while he’s the youngest drivers to be overall champion, do you know who the youngest co-driver to be crowned is?
Spoiler alert: it’s not Jonne Halttunen. Rovanperä’s navigator, who celebrated his 37th birthday this week, doesn’t even make the top 10.
So who does? Here are the 10 youngest co-driver champions in WRC history:
10 Juha Piironen
As Juha Kankkunen’s right-hand man, Piironen was no stranger to success in a rally car. Winning his first world title aged 35, he just edges the FIA’s current deputy president for sport Robert Reid – who won the championship with Richard Burns – to make the top 10.
That first world title was a controversial affair, given Piironen, Kankkunen and the entire Peugeot team were initially thrown out of the 1986 Sanremo Rally for alleged illegal side skirts.
But after the season had concluded on the Olympus Rally and it had looked as if fellow Finns Markku Alén and Ilkka Kivimäki were world champions, Peugeot’s disqualification was overturned and instead it was Kankkunen and Piironen that toasted the final world title of the Group B era.
The pair would go on to win two further titles together (in 1987 and 1991) but Piironen missed out on the ’93 title with Kankkunen as he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage just before Rally Argentina, ending his rally career on the spot.
Nicky Grist was drafted in and guided Kankkunen to the title, but 1993 remains the only season in WRC history where the driver and co-driver champions weren’t part of the same crew. More on that winner later…
9 Julien Ingrassia
He may statistically be the WRC’s second-best co-driver ever, in terms of rally wins and championships won, but many believe Ingrassia to be the most complete and most professional navigator ever seen in the service park.
Had he and Sébastien Ogier not fought their case as hard as they did, it could have all been so different. Ingrassia revealed in an interview last year that during the pair’s troubled 2009 season, Citroën wanted Ogier to go with a different co-driver. Ingrassia proved them all wrong.
The move to Volkswagen for 2013 was inspired and Ingrassia and Ogier became world champions, Ingrassia aged 34.
It was the first of many as Ingrassia and Ogier swept to eight world titles in the next nine years, only interrupted by Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja in 2019.
Ingrassia won his final title at 42 years old in 2021 before retiring from rallying.
8 Daniel Grataloup
We mentioned that in 1993, the co-driver champion didn’t partner the champion driver. And that co-driver was Grataloup.
Paired with flying Frenchman François Delecour, the duo shot to stardom in 1993 as they took their long-awaited first WRC win in Portugal, and then immediately followed that up with success in Corsica.
Suddenly they looked like credible challengers to the established title favorites and more podiums followed in both Australia and New Zealand, then another win in Spain. But an accident on Rally Sanremo and engine failure in Greece proved costly.
So Delecour missed out on the title, but due to Kankkunen’s mid-season co-driver switch Grataloup did claim the co-drivers’ crown aged 33.
7 Bernard Occelli
Bizarrely, Occelli pips his compatriot Grataloup to seventh in this list by a mere two days.
Occelli won his world title the year after Grataloup, in 1994, and did so alongside Didier Auriol. He was perhaps aided by the earlier running of that year’s Rally GB in winning his title at a slightly younger age.
Grataloup is one year Occelli’s senior, and both were born on successive days in May. Grataloup was born earliest on the 19th, with Occelli on the 20th. The final day of Rally GB in ’94 was November 23, while the year before the rally had ended on November 24.
But there wasn’t anything freaky in the manner in which Occelli and Auriol claimed their title. They looked odds on for it two years earlier in 1992 with Lancia after scoring a then-record six event wins in a season, only for a disastrous final three events to open the door for Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya to be champions.
There were no such mistakes in 1994 as the Toyota crew proved to be the class of the field and got the job done.
6 Martin Järveoja
At 32 years and two months old, Järveoja is the sixth youngest co-driver to become WRC champion.
His world championship journey began alongside rising Estonian talent Karl Kruuda, but it was the call up to partner Ott Tänak that accelerated his career.
Tänak and Järveoja had worked together back home in Estonia in 2013 and were team-mates in the DMACK fold in 2016 – Tänak in a Fiesta World Rally Car and Järveoja in an R5 – but when Tänak was recalled to the main M-Sport team for 2017 he took Järveoja with him.
It proved revolutionary for both members of the crew. A first WRC victory for both came in Sardinia, with another swiftly following in Germany before they fled to Toyota and laid the foundations for becoming world champions.
Although they missed out in a final-round thriller in 2018, Tänak and Järveoja regrouped and produced a season nobody could better the following year.
So far they remain just one-time world champions, but the move back to M-Sport for 2023 has been made with the sole purpose of adding another world championship trophy to the collection.
5 Daniel Elena
Just nine days before his 32nd birthday, Daniel Elena became overall WRC champion for the first time in his career on the 2004 Tour de Corse. It’s a feeling he would grow used to, because he and Sébastien Loeb went on to rewrite the history books and claim nine top-class titles and 79 rally wins as a pairing.
Elena was with Loeb from basically the beginning, and thus never co-drove for anybody in the WRC but Loeb.
They’d come within one point of the title in their first full season in 2003, and after firmly establishing themselves as Citroën’s number one crew they successfully converted that promise in ’04 – winning the championship with two rounds to spare in France.
Elena and Loeb would never be beaten as full-time competitors, winning each world title from 2004-’12.
4 Tiziano Siviero
Turning 30 is sometimes feared by young men and women all over the world – a realization that they’re entering a new phase of their life. But it’s unlikely that Siviero ever felt that way as his 31st year on this planet netted him his first of two world titles.
Working alongside Miki Biasion, the Italian crew were embedded in Lancia’s setup throughout the 1980s – first in the Group B 037, then the Delta S4 (the car that gave them their first WRC win in ’86) and then the Group A Delta HF 4WD and Integrale.
Come 1988, with four wins now under their belt, Biasion and Siviero were well placed to mount a title challenge – particularly as their old team-mates and reigning world champions Juhas Kankkunen and Piironen fled to Toyota instead.
And so it proved: Biasion and Siviero were absolutely dominant and roared to the title, doubling up the following year in ’89.
But this was as good as it got for the pair. Just three more wins would follow after that ’89 title – two more with Lancia and one with Ford.
3 Luis Moya
Also aged 30, but several months younger than Siviero, Moya makes it into the top three of this list.
There were so many aspects that were important in Moya and Sainz’s world title in 1990. It was the first for Toyota, which had managed to dethrone Lancia, another championship for a Latin crew (after Biasion and Siviero, proving rallying wasn’t just for Scandinavians) and, of course, it firmly cemented the Spanish duo’s place onto the world stage.
Their ’90 season was a slow burner though, as it took until round five in Greece to finally break their winning duck and announce their title credentials.
But then the floodgates opened. Victory next time out in New Zealand and a history-making Finland win as they became the first non-Scandinavian winners of the classic event hurled them into the hunt.
And victory on Rally GB was ample for Sainz and Moya to get the job done and win their first title.
They were champions again in 1992 and challenged for several other championships – not least 1994, ’95 and ’98 – but wouldn’t win another.
2 David Richards
The current chairman of Prodrive and the United Kingdom’s ASN, David Richards’ role in rallying is perhaps most remembered for running Subaru’s World Rally Team.
But before any of his management roles, Richards was a successful co-driver who sat with legends of his era like Billy Coleman and of course Ari Vatanen with whom he won the 1981 world championship title alongside.
Richards teamed up with Vatanan in 1979, just as the WRC opened up for drivers and co-drivers to claim titles for themselves (and not just the manufacturers) and Vatanen gave Richards his first ever WRC win on that year’s Acropolis.
But the duo’s big success was reserved for two years later where Vatanen produced a strong run of three wins in four rallies to steal a march that he would hold onto until season’s end.
At that time, Vatanen became the youngest ever drivers’ champion but Richards – who decided to retire from competition after lifting the title at home in GB – slotted in to be the second-youngest co-drivers’ champion at 29; a position he still holds today.
1 Christian Geistdörfer
That’s because one year earlier in 1980, Geistdörfer became the WRC’s youngest ever co-driver champion at just 27 years of age. Only three drivers have been crowned at a younger age than that.
Geistdörfer was partnered with top German drivers such as Achim Warmbold before his chance alongside the legendary Walter Röhrl.
He and Röhrl first teamed in the second half of 1977 before they became a full-time pairing from 1978 onwards, driving for both Fiat and Lancia. And an impeccable 1980 campaign in which they won four rallies and only once finished lower than second ensured they would be world champions that year.
Geistdörfer won the second of his two titles before turning 30 as he and Röhrl doubled up in 1982 after an intense fight with Michèle Mouton and Fabrizia Pons.
When Röhrl took a step back from rallying when the new Group A era failed to inspire him, Geistdörfer moved to Mazda to partner his old team-mate Hannu Mikkola through 1988 and ’89.
After that Geistdörfer stepped back from the WRC, returning to the European Rally Championship for one season where he added two more rally wins to the 10 he had claimed before he was 30.
To this day, he holds a rather important but rather uncelebrated distinction within WRC history as the youngest co-drivers’ champion ever.