Why we should come to expect Loeb-like Rovanperä dominance

There was little to split the Acropolis top three after day one. Then Rovanperä pulled 30 seconds on two WRC champions

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It would be easy to chuck every cliché under the sun at this, ramp up the hyperbole, and suggest that Kalle Rovanperä’s dominant Saturday performance on the Acropolis Rally was another major step in his World Rally Championship career.

But that would be wrong.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Toyota driver managed to gain 30-plus seconds over Ott Tänak and Sébastien Ogier across the second full day of the rally; but we should be impressed by the manner in which he pulled it off.

Viewing Rovanperä from a purely objective standpoint, his pace should not have been possible. No 20-year-old with just 15 top-line starts under their belt should be able to make two World Rally Champions look average across a day of competition in equal conditions.

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But throughout his entire WRC career to date, Rovanperä has broken the mold. We can’t view him as a rising star because he isn’t one. He’s already there.

Ever since Rovanperä’s Rally Sweden podium on his second ever top-line start, it was clear the fanfare surrounding him was not misplaced. Rally Estonia back in the summer was the ultimate proof – and arguably that maiden victory should’ve come a lot sooner. He’d certainly tell you that.

Again, it would be tempting to believe that Rovanperä’s Estonian win has played a major part in his accomplished performance in Greece. He now has the experience of leading and winning a rally, so that must mean he’s had some familiar experience to utilize?

But think back to Rovanperä’s drive in Estonia, and can you ever remember him being rattled? Not once.

Rovanperä is in a position where he just expects himself to win rallies. We should now begin to expect that from him as a result

The one thing we’re truly learning this weekend is that Rovanperä can absolutely fight with the best in every kind of condition.

Everyone knew he was a contender on the fast rallies, but it’s now undeniable that he can cut it everywhere. Rovanperä was, in a lot of people’s eyes, the star of last month’s Ypres Rally as he claimed third – finishing best among the drivers who had not tackled the rally before.

That strong form has simply carried over onto the Acropolis, another totally different style of event. Rovanperä’s strong charge was overlooked on day one with Elfyn Evans’s and Thierry Neuville’s capitulations, but he led overnight and has simply been in a different class on Saturday.

In a copy/paste job from his Estonian victory, Rovanperä has constructed what’s still an ongoing victory bid with a divine drive on the opening stage of Saturday. In Estonia he blew Breen to pieces and in Greece, while his current lead margin is less emphatic, he has showed two of the quickest drivers in the WRC a clean pair of heels.

Kalle Rovanpera

Photo: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Stage by stage, Rovanperä kept stealing chunks of time out of Tänak and Ogier in a way that Sébastien Loeb always used to do to his rivals on Saturdays when faced with a more level starting position on the road.

Rovanperä is now in a position where he just expects himself to be winning rallies. We should now begin to expect that from him as a result.

But equally if he does convert his commanding lead into victory on Sunday, that doesn’t mean we should not be impressed that a 20-year-old has managed to put two of the best rally drivers of a generation completely into the shade. In a word, it was epic.

“It was a good day,” Rovanperä told DirtFish, completely underselling his accomplishment. “The morning loop was really good, then on the afternoon we could’ve been a bit better but overall it was a very good day.”

Rovanperä, having crafted a 39.7s advantage before service, opted for a conservative approach on the final two stages of the day, making changes to the suspension and carrying an extra spare wheel.

“Overall we made some changes to the suspension to gain a bit of protection and we lost some traction there,” he explained. “And of course the second spare was for safety, and then you have less traction and more weight, that’s not so good.”

The job is still to be completed, and Rovanperä is aware that Sunday “will be really, really difficult”, with tough stages and plenty of competitive mileage meaning he “cannot really slow down too much”.

But the same was true in Estonia, and that one panned out nicely didn’t it?

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Words:Luke Barry

Photography:Toyota Gazoo Racing, Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Quotes:Colin Clark

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