Kalle Rovanperä: “I always enjoy Estonian roads a lot. It´s always nice to go flat out and this year everything just went well again!
Powerstage Podcast was honored to interview and look back to WRC season with 2022. World Champion Kalle Rovanperä.
Kalle, it’s the end of the year and I’m really grateful that you found some time to take a look back to this championship year. Let’s start from the beginning. New season, new Rally1 car. How different was it to drive in the first stages and rallies on different surfaces compared to the previous generation?
Kalle – It was quite different of course. We had some insight and feeling from the testing what we did pre-season but of course it was not so much and it was quite a lot of learning and new things on each rally in the beginning of the season
I think if we look back to Friday evening at Rally Monte Carlo, you were holding 9th position overall and 2 minutes from the leaders but from Saturday onwards, it seemed like a different pilot sat in the car. How do you describe such a change?
Yeah, Monte was really difficult to start with. But I was actually expecting it after the test. I never felt in the test that I’m fully happy and confident with the car. I didn’t feel that we found all the things with the car that we needed to find on the test so yeah, I knew it was going to be a difficult Monte and yeah, Thursday and Friday were difficult and then basically we swapped the whole balance of the car around. We changed almost everything we could change in some of the areas and yeah, then I found the real set-up that I like to drive and it got a lot easier and we found a bit speed where we should be.
In Rally Sweden you and Jonne took your first win of the season. That is the one and only WRC rally that your father has won. Is that win somehow special for you because of that?
Yeah, I think it’s a bit more special. I don’t think it is so special but of course it’s cool to win the same event that my dad did and it was important this year also. First win for our team with the new car so it was nice to be the driver to get it.
In Croatia you took an early lead and held it in these hard conditions until the penultimate stage. But you fought back on the last stage and took the win ahead of Tänak. Do you remember what were your thoughts on the last stage and when you got the info that you won. how good did that feel?
Yeah, it was a tricky regroup before the stage. We always wait quite long before the powerstage and yeah, I remember I was really angry losing our lead like that. It’s always really disappointing when you lose it on something like that and you cannot make a big difference. You cannot change anything anymore, you just have the wrong tires in the rain and you’re losing time and you cannot do anything so yeah it was not easy but yeah, I was still quite sure that we will try everything we have on the last stage, to be leading the whole event with that big margin also, it was really a shame and I was not accepting to lose the rally like this. It was an interesting one, I was watching the stage Live and thinking that we are going for it.
You’re win streak continued in Portugal Kenya and Estonia where you won your first WRC rally last year. The conditions in Estonia were totally different compared to last year but you managed to grab the win with over 1 minute gap and that powerstage win – that was like a wow factor. 22.5s ahead of 2nd place. Where did that come from?
I don’t know. I think the powerstage, of course the condition was tricky, it was raining really heavily before the stage and yeah definitely the condition got a bit better compared to the guys in front but definitely the few cars ahead of me didn’t have so much better condition than us and yeah, I don’t know. I’ve been enjoying the rain this year in all the rallies. Being quite fast in the rain and also there i just felt that you could take a lot of risk without taking it basically. I just felt really confident in the car and knew where the limit was on those really tricky conditions.
It has been quite a rainy season, I think?
Yeah, it was in every rally.
Next was your home rally in Finland. First day you lost time because of road cleaning and in the end, you missed your first home rally win by just 6.8s. Did you enjoy the battle with Tänak, except that you didn’t win?
Yeah, it was a really enjoyable battle. I think we just lost a little too much time on Friday opening the road even though it was quite mistake free event from us. But yeah, definitely Saturday and Sunday, especially on Saturday the whole day, pushing a lot. Just gaining the time back all the time a bit but it was a really nice fight and I really enjoyed.
Then there were two not so good rallies in Belgium and Greece. Do you agree with your team principal Jari Matti Latvala who said that after such a perfect first half of the season, it was like a matter of time till this happened?
Aam, Hehe. Yes and No. i think there is always a season with every driver that you cannot do perfect. I don’t know anybody who made a perfect season without any mistakes but yeah, Belgium was a bit unfortunate with just a pace note mistake of my own. Couldn’t really do much more there. Other than that, at least we were in the pace and fight after that so it was not so bad weekend but Greece definitely was more of a struggle. Seeing already in the shakedown that the pace will not be there with our car and then opening the road. It was getting all the time worse and then dropping out of the fight in the early phase of the weekend was quite tough and then yeah. To finish it off with a mistake again so it was not the best for the points.
You were back on winning course in New Zealand where you secured your first world championship title. How good did that feel and how big was the pressure that dropped from your shoulders?
Of course, there was a bit more pressure after Greece especially. With two events with not so good results. I knew that Greece was basically a bad weekend overall. It could have been avoided but I still knew that if the car is fast, we can be straightaway back in the pace like we were in New Zealand and yeah it was the first-time last year that I felt a bit more pressure but I was also enjoying it more than I usually do. I do better when i have a bit pressure. You start to focus
And again, rain
(Laughs) Yeah, rain helped there also quite a lot. On Friday it would have been really bad without the rain, opening the road. But i think Saturday and Sunday definitely it would have been better with our road position to fight but the rain made it more enjoyable for me, i enjoyed the weather and it was nice.
If you think back to the season. What was your favorite rally? Was it New Zealand because of the title?
No, I think it was Estonia. I always enjoy Estonian roads a lot. I like the style of the road a lot so I think Estonia was really nice this year. It was overall a nice weekend because its always nice to go flat out and this year everything just went well again. Just flat out from start to finish so it’s always nice.
How has your life changed after you became world champion or has it changed?
Not really. I don’t see any difference myself but there has been a lot more things to do in the short time but yeah in my free time i didn’t see any change so that’s good
How does Kalle Rovanperä relax before title hunt nr 2? Some snow drifting in Finland?
Yeah, I was on long holiday in Japan after our work in rally Japan and all the PR stuff, i stayed there for a holiday and to do some drifting. Just spending time with my friends and yeah let’s see. We still have some free time after a few tests here for monte so it will be the same thing. Let’s just try to enjoy and relax-
Let’s take a quick look to 2023. Tänak is with M-Sport now, Neuville on Hyundai, you have strong teammates – Evans, Ogier. These guys will make sure that your title defense won’t be easy. Do you think the same?
Yeah, I fully think that and especially next year it will be a lot more difficult with everybody being closer with the cars. Also being more familiar with the cars so definitely it should be much more tough season.
What do you think about Tänak moving to m sport? Its good competition wise. 3 top drivers are now in different teams. For fans and the sport this is very good marketing and I think we can expect great battles.
Yeah, definitely it is really good thing that Ott went there. It’s good that all the teams have really strong drivers for the season which is important to push everybody more.
Thank you Kalle for this interview and ai wish you and Toyota Gazoo racing all the best and good luck in WRC season 2023 and once again congratulations for the title.
Thank you very much
Photos: Toyota Gazoo Racing