The teenager taking rallying by storm. By David Evans RALLYING’S YOUNGEST SENSATION
Seven years ago, the World Rally Championship was stopped in its tracks by a Toyota. A Toyota driven by an eight-year-old. Get it? One more than seven: eight. Still in primary school. Still playing conkers. Still finding ways to avoid eating his greens and cleaning his teeth.
In 2009, Kalle Rovanpera stole the show for a while. Everybody in the service park was talking about what Harri’s boy was doing. Once, that was, a sufficiently large cushion had been found for him to sit on.
Then the Kalle story seemed to go away. Everything went quite. Kalle kept on pedaling, but without the Youtube fanfare.
Now, he’s back. And he’s back faster and more fearless than ever.
In his time away, the Starlet’s been dropped in favour of a Citroen C2. And now that’s been dropped in favour of a Skoda Fabia S2000.
A natural progression for any budding 15-year-old…
Heading back into Youtube, the progression is obvious. More than obvious. There’s an onboard from the second round of this year’s Latvian championship that takes the breath away. Off the startline, the Fabia’s banged up the gearbox, straight into sixth and pretty much left there. There’s the odd fifth, here and there and a very occasional trip to fourth, but otherwise, it’s top and it’s absolutely nailed.
And here’s the scary bit, there’s no hint of a moment. Everything is completely controlled. And he’s 15. “He has a really good brain,” says his father Harri. “His brain is working very, very fast. All the time he is ahead in thinking what he is doing. Maybe this is why there are not many crashes for him. He is fast, but he is not all the time bending many things on the car.”
Not long after he was 12, he was across the Baltic Sea and into Latvaia – the proving ground for the world’s fastest teenage wannabe Harri Rovanperas.
The last two years have been spent in the C2-R2 Max, with plenty of class wins and some top-10s overall in Latvia. But this season, it was time for former Rally Sweden winner Harri to dig deep into those Peugeotlined pockets from 15 years ago.
“He was ready for the change,” says Rovanpera Sr, “ready for the bigger car.”
And he was ready for the first Latvian outing in the middle of last month. He won Rally Aluksne by more than a minute. A week later was the real challenge Rallijs Sarma – a two-dayer with much longer stages and more serious competition.
“The powersteering broke on the second stage,” says his father, “but he still won. He dropped one minute with the powersteering and won by 20 seconds. His time in the last stage was really good – he was more than a second per kilometre faster than anybody in the last 18-kilometre stage. That was good.”
Watching Rovanpera Jr at the wheel, his natural ability, control and feel for the car is very clear. What’s also clear is the voice of Risto Pietilainen – he’s co-driving his second generation of Rovanpera.
“Kalle is really working on his pacenotes now,” says his father. “He knows this is important and this is one of the main things he is practicing now.”
You have visions of the 15-year-old skipping school to drive in anything he can find on a frozen lake. That’s not the case. “He drives just before the rally,” says Harri, “he makes a small shakedown, if he’s happy with the car it goes on the trailer ready for the rally. He has other things, he’s interested in. Rallying is not his whole life, you know. That’s important as well, we still have a lot to work on for the school.”
This week should have been the biggest test yet for world rallying’s latest teenage sensation. He was planning an entry on Rally Liepaja, the biggest event in the Latvian calendar – and the opening round of this year’s European Rally Championship. Unfortunately, unseasonably warm weather forced the postponement of the event.
“It would have been good to see where Kalle was,” says Rovanpera. “It would be interesting to know. For now, we have to stay in Latvia and keep driving there. We could go to Finland and compete, but it’s 1600cc cars and front-wheel drive in the class for the youngsters – I think this is not Kalle’s level any more.”
What is that level? Harri won a single round of the world championship, but remained at the top of the sport for more than a decade. What can his boy do?
“It’s maybe a little bit early to talk about that,” he says, “but I think he can make the top. I think he has the speed for that. His potential is very good. You know, he went to Latvia this year and came up against the boys from Estonia, Lithuania and, of course, Latvia and he beat them.
“You know when he came out of that last stage on the last rally, I was saying to him: “Hey Kalle, calma, calma… why did you have to go so fast?” But he said: ‘I didn’t see the reason to lift the throttle. I want to win.’”
Big question is, how much influence has Harri had in the car?
“I hate going in the car,” he says, “hate it. I am like all of the drivers, I never like to be in the co-driver’s seat. Of course, when he first started driving, I was able to give him some ideas and we talked a lot about what the car was doing, but then he just got in and drove. He has very good feeling for the car now, everything is very natural for Kalle.
“I did go in the car for the test before the last rally. He said to me: ‘OK, now you come for the run.’ I told him no, I didn’t want to. But he insisted. ‘Come on, get in the car.’ OK, OK, so I go in the car and we make the test stage and everything is really fast. Then I say: ‘Now we go back to service, we can go slowly.’
“He told me, yes, no problem. Then throttle is down, flat-out again. He likes to scare me.”
Kalle, unfortunately, wasn’t around for this interview. No, no, he wasn’t testing or rebuilding an engine. Or in the gym. Double maths scuppered that chat.
Kalle Rovanpera, go google him. ■
“I think he can make it to the top, he has the