RO­VAN­PERA

The teenager tak­ing ral­ly­ing by storm. By David Evans RAL­LY­ING’S YOUNGEST SEN­SA­TION

Motor Sport News - - Kalle Rovanpera - Pho­tos: Al­fon­sas Rakauskas

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

speed”

Harri Ro­van­pera

Ro­van­pera dom­i­nated Rally Sarma last month 2012: Ro­van­pera im­pressed in Citroen C2-R2 Max

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