Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala believes Kalle Rovanperä took a smart approach on Rally México as he banked points in the bid to retain his world championship title.
Following second and fourth places on the opening two rounds of this year’s World Rally Championship, Rovanperä was second in the standings behind Ott Tänak. He therefore ran second on the road for the opening leg of the rally.
When Tänak hit turbo trouble early on Friday and his pace dropped significantly as a result, Rovanperä effectively became the first car through the stages, sweeping them clean for those behind.
The cleaning effect is particularly strong on México’s gravel surface and Rovanperä’s GR Yaris was consigned to fifth on the leaderboard at the end of Friday, a minute behind the leading Hyundai of Esapekka Lappi.
With a deficit of 20 seconds even to fourth-placed Thierry Neuville and again running in front of Lappi, Neuville and his Toyota team-mates Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans in the running order, Rovanperä was on a hiding to nothing for the rest of the event.
By the end of Saturday, Lappi’s retirement had promoted Rovanperä to fourth, but he was nearly a minute behind Neuville in third.
“In the morning we tried to push, and we had some good splits when there was a clean line,” said Rovanperä. “But then it seemed that the road was cleaning quite a lot still. All the cars in front were slower and behind were faster all the time, so there was not much that we could do more.
“I think they have been preparing the roads now differently in the past two years, so it’s really slick. Even on the second pass, the line is like polished. So, it’s really slippery, and for sure it seems that it gets faster even on the second pass.”
With no pressure from Dani Sordo behind, Rovanperä cruised through Sunday’s stages to consolidate his position and, despite a mistake, claimed a couple of bonus points on the powerstage.
“I was not really expecting much more,” he reflected. “It’s quite often here the podium is quite tough when opening the road and, yeah, of course I was quite OK before the powerstage. Just missed a few points there. Otherwise, I am quite happy.”
The reigning world champion now lies third in the standings, four points behind leader Ogier but just a single mark behind Neuville – the highest-placed full-time driver. A mature approach of settling for a decent points haul rather than risking all for a podium finish brought praise from Rovanperä’s team boss.
“After the Friday he was so much behind that he realized himself that he can’t really catch anybody with the normal driving,” Latvala told DirtFish.
“He would have needed to take some big risks and didn’t want to go that way, which is very clever because he was thinking about the championship, and you don’t need to win every rally to win the title.”