What Rovanperä’s title means for Finland

His rapid rise to the top has helped re-engage a diminishing audience


In Finland, it’s all about ice hockey. Rallying – that’s always been there but not able to rival Finland’s favorite national sport.

For all of us everywhere else in the world, we look at Finland with envy. Its round of the World Rally Championship is always sensational, its national scene is strong and the passion the general public has for this fantastic sport of ours is hard for other countries to match.

But actually, popularity is waning. For years the Finns – kings of the rallying tree – have been dethroned by the French rule of two blokes, both named Sébastien. While Finland won 11 of the first 20 World Rally titles, it only took three of the next 20. France went unbeaten for 15 years on the trot.

With that sort of hammering, it’s natural for the public to lose interest in a sport they once called their own. The hardcore fans always remained, but the rest were waiting on a hero to support and cheer that wasn’t quite forthcoming.

But now, that hero has arrived. Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen didn’t just end Finland’s long 20-year wait for World Rally champions, they’ve reignited the passion for rallying within a nation starved of success.

That’s far from lost on Rovanperä, who had just turned two years old when the last Finns, Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen, topped the rallying world.

Attending the post-event press conference in New Zealand, within an hour of becoming the youngest world champion in history, Rovanperä’s thoughts were with those back home.

“It has been a long break since Finland had a world champion,” he said. “I am really proud of the team, myself and of course Jonne.

“There is huge support from all the Finnish fans and it has been nice to see that the sport is gaining more attraction again, especially with the younger people which is quite important to get new fans to the sport.

“It is really nice to see and nice to get the good result.”

Rovanperä just shared the secret. Rallying is back on the radar for the wider Finnish population – how couldn’t it be when somebody so young and so good was there taking it by storm, and he’s one of their own?


“Yeah you could feel the drop in the years since Marcus got the championship title because myself and Mikko Hirvonen, we were so many times close but it’s another disappointment when you don’t get the title,” Jari-Matti Latvala, three times a WRC runner-up, told DirtFish.

“Now you could already feel it over the summer, Rally Finland, that the boom is there because people were shouting Kalle’s name like in a football match, so you could feel that phenomenon happening.

“So I think it will boost the sport even more now.”

The difference was palpable in Jyväskylä this summer. When the event last ran in its proper guise in 2019 (COVID-19 canceled it in 2020 and rescheduled it to October and with restricted attendance in 2021) Rovanperä starred to a crushing WRC2 win with Škoda.

But this year he was the headline act. Fresh from winning five of the first seven rounds of the WRC, the Finnish people were out in their droves to see their new superstar do what he does best.

“I have to say that with Kalle we have a lot of new spectators because he is so talented, he is young, there is everything,” Tomi Tuominen, former WRC co-driver to Toni Gardemeister and Juho Hänninen, told DirtFish.

“He is so clever, so nice and everything and first of all he’s so fast. So for example if 30% of spectators were Kalle’s fans, now it’s 100% after this year.

“And it’s so amazing that rally has been grown up since last year so much because of Kalle in Finland.”

“Yeah for sure,” agreed Toyota sporting director Kaj Lindström.

“I mean being a young 22-year-old boy, for sure the interest for similar aged people and even younger comes with that as well.

“It’s very good for the sport generally.”

Everyone now has a role model. It’s far easier to resonate with someone and aspire to be like them if you feel they represent you, and that’s precisely what Rovanperä does.

“Now I think all the young boys and girls and everyone wants to be Kalle Rovanperä,” said Toyota crew management, Timo ‘Tank’ Hirvonen.


“So we can see the last Rally Finland, maybe in 10-15 years they didn’t sell that many tickets [as they did this year]. So it’s growing up that rally side a lot.”

Even the drivers in Rovanperä’s slipstream can feel that.

Sami Pajari is one of several bright young Finnish talents making their way up the world rallying ladder, and has noticed a difference out there on the stages.

“It looks really good for the moment,” Pajari told DirtFish. “There are many good drivers on different levels at the moment and for sure it’s really nice to see that Kalle is doing so well on the top level, and I think that has a huge impact in all of Finland for the image of motorsport.


“Even Rally Finland had much more spectators this year than the last few years, so for sure it’s a really good thing.”

Finland is back where it belongs – at the top of the WRC. Rallying is back where it belongs in Finland – front and center of everyone’s hearts. And the best thing is, you sense Rovanperä is only just getting started.