It’s the small details that make the difference in professional sport.
No goalkeeper heads into a penalty shootout without studying the other team’s penalty takers. No tennis player heads into a grand slam match without a plan to expose their opponent’s weaknesses. No World Rally Championship driver starts a rally without a thorough and detailed recce.
Kalle Rovanperä is a consummate pro, you don’t really need us to tell you that. But, such is the level he’s operating at right now, he’s even been checking where he could potentially crash – not just the road itself – when preparing for a round of the WRC.
And going that extra mile may just have been the difference between staying in the fight in Rally Finland or walking home with nothing.
Rovanperä has been lumbered with the task of opening the road throughout Friday’s eight stages (nine were scheduled but one was canceled). It has undoubtedly blunted his attack as he lies off the podium and last of the factory Toyotas, 21 seconds down on overnight leader Ott Tänak.
He told DirtFish he has been leaving some time on the stages too as a result of not finding “the perfect place with the car”, but running first on the road has been a noticeable handicap, no question.
It’s been clear for all to see that Rovanperä’s right foot has spent plenty of time slammed to the pedal box though, given the wild moment he survived at the beginning of the day’s final stage.
Approaching a sweeping left-hander, Rovanperä drifted wide of the apex and the rear of his Toyota began to step out and into the ditch on the outside of the corner – a moment remarkably similar to the one that ruined Oliver Solberg’s weekend.
It was a hairy ordeal that prompted a yelp from co-driver Jonne Halttunen and a massive grin on Rovanperä’s face as he charged on through the rest of the Sahloinen-Moksi test.
But, as Rovanperä explained, running first on the road had a lot to do with the wonky line through the corner.
“It was a tricky one,” he said.
“I knew that it can be after these small cars [which had driven the stage after the first pass], the line sometimes on the entry really easily takes us out. So already from the entry I go wide.”
It’s a tempting conclusion to reach that Rovanperä was merely riding his luck at this point. Just like on that opening stage in Estonia when he ran wide, clouted a rock and got away with it, lady luck seems to be rewarding Rovanperä for his excellent performances this season.
And the contrast with Solberg is the obvious example of what happens when the luck isn’t with you. Solberg’s incident was near identical in nature but radically different in result.
But the difference was Solberg ran off the road where there was something to hit. The rear of his Hyundai found a rock, which then hurled the car into a tree and that was all she wrote.
The ditch Rovanperä kissed was empty. But that wasn’t lucky. He’d done his homework. He knew everything would be fine.
“I remembered the ditch from the recce,” he explained. “I checked that it’s clear that I can go there if needed.
“I was laughing and Jonne was quite scared because he didn’t know if there was something or not.”
Nor did any of the rest of us. Yet Rovanperä did.
Margins, they’re everything. Of course Rovanperä didn’t plan to visit this ditch, but he’d scoped it out just in case. The jeopardy we all thought was there when he ran wide simply wasn’t.
That attention-to-detail has kept him in the shootout. He may well be 1-0 down, but there’s still plenty kicks of the ball left yet. In this kind of form, that 21s deficit may not be wholly insurmountable.
“We will see tomorrow,” he said. “[The gap] is quite a lot but of course tomorrow we will see what we can do.”