Toyota’s expectations of Rovanperä this season

Tom Fowler believes it'll be tougher for Kalle Rovanperä to win the title this year, but backs him to do it


Kalle Rovanperä will step up his game this year but he’ll need to in order to retain his World Rally Championship crown, according to Toyota technical director Tom Fowler.

Rovanperä became the youngest World Rally champion in history at just 22 years and one day old last season, sweeping to five wins in the first seven rallies.

He eventually won the title by 50 points over Ott Tänak, but the second half of the year was less convincing as he made a couple of high-profile errors and was outscored by both Hyundai drivers Tänak and Thierry Neuville.

But on the eve of the new season, Fowler told DirtFish he holds no concerns over Rovanperä’s perceived dip in form over the back end of 2022 given the circumstances he was under.

“I think it’s difficult to analyze the what ifs because the problem is no-one will ever know how he would have reacted if he had a one or two point lead,” Fowler said.

“That’s the bit that no-one knows, so that can work in our favor in terms of thinking about it that if it was close he would be able to step up and step up and keep stepping up, which to be fair to him in the beginning of the season he did do.

“He showed that he could step it up in the beginning of the season, but because of circumstance he ended up with such a huge lead by the mid season that we never really know what was possible [otherwise].

“Finland is probably a classic example of it as he was head to head with Tänak, they were battling it out for fractions of seconds and seconds, but did he need to win Finland? No.


“Could he have? Difficult to say. You should never say ‘if he tried harder he would have won’ but he didn’t need to. And it was the same for every rally from there onwards basically. He didn’t need to [win] so why would he?”

This season Tänak has moved to M-Sport Ford meaning that each of the three teams has at least one of the likely 2023 title contenders with Neuville leading Hyundai’s line and Rovanperä staying put at Toyota.

Fowler therefore believes that Rovanperä has a harder task to win the championship this year, but has no doubts that he can do it.

“We’re confident that he can keep improving and I think this season he will need to improve because as soon as those main title contending guys are now split between all three teams, I think that makes Kalle’s life a little bit more challenging.

“Having Ott and Neuville in the same team really played into the favor of Kalle,” Fowler added, “so now they’re separated for sure he needs to step it up another level.”

Rovanperä himself agrees that winning the title this year will be tougher than last.

“I think defending the title will be difficult,” he told DirtFish, “I think the season will be more difficult than last year.

“For sure the competition is closer and the guys and the other teams are closer to us so yeah of course it will be a more difficult season.

“Definitely I think it [our championship position] affected a lot of races second half of the year and I think we need to improve ourself a lot this year to step up the game again, and I don’t see an issue there,” Rovanperä added.

“Definitely there are areas we can improve and normally we can improve always. So that’s the plan.”