When was it? When was the moment? It’s easy to point to the YouTube film of an eight-year-old Kalle Rovanperä and predict his future as a world champion. But that’s still rather random. A touch arbitrary.
Let’s be more precise. Let’s ask Tommi Mäkinen and Mia Miettinen about a summer’s day in Finland’s far east, six years ago.
There had always been chatter about Rovanperä driving a development Toyota Yaris WRC late in 2016, but both Harri and Harri’s boy had always kept quiet about it.
Sitting in Japan, enjoying a cup of coffee with Toyota’s former team principal and Miettinen, who was then the deputy managing director of Tommi Mäkinen Racing, the conversation moved past ABBA’s Voyage tour and onto young Kalle.
Should they? Could they tell all about Kalle’s secret test?
Of course they could.
The big day? It was Sunday August 7, 2016. In the evening.
“We wanted to see the young drivers,” Mäkinen told DirtFish. “We wanted to see how were they doing.
“We took EP [Esapekka Lappi], Teemu [Suninen] and Kalle, they trained a little bit in some circuit. Kalle was only 15 years old, so we couldn’t look too seriously at him behind the steering wheel. He was too young. But he was there.
“After some training we want to another road and made some notes. Kalle jumped in the car and straight away, he was fastest – even though the others were older with more experience.
“It was in his nature. Kalle could immediately feel how the car was. He came from the car and said: ‘It’s so easy, easy car to drive. And very fast car to drive.’.”
Time for another road, this time with some more technical gravel and as the sun started to fade.
“EP went and set a time,” said Mäkinen. “I went with Kalle to look at the road and I noticed the chance for a different line in a couple of places – in my opinion, lines I would like to drive. He listened and then drove and straight away he was a few seconds faster on his first run.”
As Mäkinen struggled to take in what he was seeing from the 15-year-old, Miettinen was fascinated.
“You could see him listening all the time to the other drivers when they were giving feedback,” she said.
“He was listening to carefully and remembering everything. Then he went to the car and went faster than everybody. Immediately, everybody there saw and knew that it wasn’t whether or not Kalle would be a world champion, but more the question of how many times he would be world champion.
“You could see, he was so natural with the car.
“Normally drivers are starting around plus or minus 20 years old, but Kalle was 15. He was like the finished product on that day. It was clear he would sign with Tommi.”
And that he did.
When? That’s the secret that this story can’t give. Some things have to remain between world champions.
One thing we do know is that nobody knew outside of the teen himself, Mäkinen, Miettinen and Kalle’s manager Timo Jouhki.
Rovanperä wasn’t even allowed to tell his father or his family. Nobody could know the biggest of big deals had been made – but we do know it was before Rovanperä junior had even competed in the WRC.
To answer Mia’s question of how many title, it’s best ask the man with four of his own.
“I think pretty easily he can beat my record,” said Mäkinen. “He is 22 now. I was 22 when I started!”
And to accompany this incredible story, Mia scrolled through her iPhone and came up with the very historic pictures she took on that August Sunday in 2016.
Thanks to Miettinen, we are to share those pictures for the very first time: a 15-year-old Rovanperä driving what would become the world’s fastest rally car.
So, there you have it. It finally happened on Sunday, October 2 2022. But it had been written in the stars since Sunday, August 7 2016.