Kalle Rovanperä: The story of the youngest WRC event winner
Kalle Rovanperä is a 20 year old Finnish rally driver who first came to the world’s attention when a video of him driving a rally car around a snowy forest went viral. It may seem odd as to why a person driving a rally car got so much attention, but it was because Rovanperä was just eight years old when the video was taken. Fast forward to now, Rovanperä now has multiple wins and championships under his belt and he is the youngest driver to score points and also to win in WRC. Kalle’s father, Harri Rovanperä, was also a WRC driver who competed in the series with multiple teams. He encouraged Kalle to start driving in competitions from the age of 12. But Kalle had to move to Latvia due to his inability to drive in Finland because of an age restriction. From then onwards, Kalle has impressed the media from around the world by winning three consecutive titles at the Latvian Rally series, winning the 2019 WRC-2 Pro championship and also by winning the 2021 WRC Rally Estonia at the age of 20. So who is Kalle Rovanperä and what was his journey to WRC like?
Rovanperä has been driving a car since he was six and his father has helped give his career a platform from an early age. Harri Rovanperä moved his son to Latvia to allow him to race from the age of 12. He was also paired with Harri’s WRC co-driver Risto Pietiläinen. Risto used to drive the road sections of the rally for Kalle because he was not allowed to drive on a public road due to his age. On October 18, 2015 Rovanperä won the Latvian Rally Championship with his Citroen C2R2 Max car in the R2 class. Rovanperä also ended up winning three consecutive titles in the Latvian series from 2015 to 2017.
Rovanperä also gained asphalt track experience at this point. He came under the patronage of Timo Jouhki who sent him to the Italian Championship in 2016 to hone his skills. He also participated in his home country of Finland by 2017 after the Finnish motorsport association AKK-Motorsport granted a special permission to take part in the Finnish rally races.
Rovanperä’s first drive in a WRC rally was at the Wales Rally GB in October 2017. He drove a M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5 car in both Wales and Australia. He ended up 10th in the total evaluation of the Australia Rally which made him the youngest driver ever to score a point in WRC.
In 2018, Rovanperä signed for Skoda Motorsport to contest in the WRC2 driving a Fabia R5. He finished third with two wins under his belt. Twelve months later, he became the youngest driver to win the WRC title by topping the WRC-2 Pro series. But his success hasn’t come without some heart stopping crashes. Kalle suffered a huge accident in Rally Argentina. While being locked in a battle with teammate Pontus Tidemand for the WRC-2 victory on the final day, Rovanperä lost the car on a fast left-hander, rolled violently and ended up on the roof of a spectator’s car. Thankfully, no one was hurt during the crash.
Rovanperä continued to gain experience in the WRC through the 2018 and 2019 season. He became a fully-fledged WRC driver for the 2020 season after joining an all-new driver line-up at Toyota Gazoo Racing. In Rally Sweden, he went on to become the youngest podium finisher in WRC history at 19 years and 139 days. The Finnish driver ended the season in fifth position overall.
At Rally Estonia 2021, Rovanperä also created the record of being the youngest driver to win a WRC rally event at the age of 20. Kalle has the blood of a driver running through his veins and it shows when he is driving on the rally stages. He is a highly talented young driver in the world of WRC and has the potential to achieve a lot of records in the years to come.