This was one to remember.
Kalle Rovanperä led every stage of the Croatia Rally – until the penultimate one, where it all went wrong. On tyres unsuited to the conditions, all looked lost for the Toyota GR Yaris driver ahead of the final test. That he dug deep, pulled back his deficit and sensationally beat Ott Tänak, whose Hyundai i20 N was fitted with the ‘right’ Pirellis for the road, was a genuine spine-tingler. Rovanperä is just 21 years old – and he’s a phenomenon.
Croatia marked the Finn’s fourth victory in the World Rally Championship, and he has now won on gravel, snow (at the previous round in Sweden) and asphalt. Always a good sign.
True to the national stereotype, he doesn’t say much but exudes a poise and confidence beyond his tender years. In an echo of Max Verstappen, Kalle is the son of a former driver (Harri Rovanperä, who won the Swedish Rally for Peugeot back in 2001). Also like the Verstappens, junior far exceeds senior in talent, achievement so far and expectations for the future.
Clearly, the WRC has a new prince – who looks destined to become its next king.
How he almost slipped
Rovanperä was peerless on the treacherous Croatian stages, persistent rain and fog on the highest tests during the first day only enhancing his superiority. Team-mate Esapekka Lappi crashed out on the first stage – an echo of Rovanperä’s fate here a year ago – while two punctures cost Elfyn Evans.
Toyota’s Welshman is also an emerging world-class talent, but even without those setbacks, he would have been hard-pressed to live with Rovanperä, who scooped six of the day’s eight stage wins.