New Zealand 2022: Rovanperä becomes youngest WRC champion

Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota) has taken his first World Rally title after winning the Rally New Zealand 2022. At 22 years and one day of age, the Finn has become the youngest champion in history, breaking the late Colin McRae’s record who took his first crown at 27. 

The young hero from Jyväskylä defeated teammate Sebastien Ogier by 34.6 seconds to claim his sixth victory of the season after Sweden, Croatia, Portugal, Kenya & Estonia. In third place came Ott Tänak, 48.5 seconds behind the winner.

Rovanperä put out a magnificent driving exhibition to conquer the glory at a race where the variable weather conditions have been extremely challenging for all participants. Proof of this are the accidents suffered by Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith, both M-Sport, or Takamoto Katsuta and his Toyota GR Yaris Rally 1, among others. 

The intermittent rain turned the race into a treacherous battlefield. The changes in the tracks at the different stages demanded a great deal of adaptability, speed and talent from drivers, and the young Scandinavian stood out above the rest in all those areas.

Sunday: A date with history  

On Sunday, with four sections and 31 kilometres left to the end, Rovanperä started the day with a 29-second lead over teammate Sebastien Ogier and 46.4 seconds over Ott Tänak, third. 

Despite enjoying that very comfortable advantage and being so near to claiming the title, he still fought to prevail at the first stage of the day. Afterwards, he concentrated on managing his advantage in order to secure the win. He was the fastest in the Power Stage under the rain, the gravel sections turned into an ice rink once again. ¡What a feat! 


Saturday: Setting the ground to win

The key to his victory came 24 hours earlier, on the Saturday of the New Zealand Rally 2022. Rovanperä had started the day in fourth place, 12.2 seconds behind his teammate Evans, following a five-second penalty for improper use of the hybrid system. 

His Welsh teammate, however, suffered an accident in the first stage of the day (SS8) and the Finn replaced him at the top of the table. He led his immediate pursuer, Tänak, by 4.6 seconds, and by the next stage (SS9), he was ahead of Ogier, third, by 6.5 seconds.

Rovanperä was able to read the race to perfection and ended the day with a half-a-minute advantage. Perhaps more importantly, Ogier was covering his back. Tänak, on the other hand, had dropped to third after receiving another ten-second penalty, which wrote him off both winning Rally New Zealand and the championship.

From that moment on, nobody was able to unseat Rovanperä from the top. A day earlier, at the end of Friday’s battle, Rovanperä was third,7.2 seconds off the top heading into Saturday. It is no surprise that he was going to fight head-on to conquer it.


The youngest at everything 

With this title, the Scandinavian racer has smashed every WRC record. At 17, in Australia 2017, he became the youngest driver to ever score points after finishing in tenth place despite driving a WRC2.

In Sweden 2020 he got his first podium at age 19, having been the youngest driver to command a World Championship Rally. In 2021, after the two initial rounds, he became the youngest contender to ever lead a World Championship at 20 years, 4 months and 28 days of age. That service record has now culminated in his first crown this Sunday at Rally New Zealand.

Rally New Zealand 2022: Toyota GAZOO Racing.

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