Rovanpera is WRC’s youngest champion after Rally New Zealand domination 

Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Rovanpera is WRC’s youngest champion after Rally New Zealand domination 

Rallying

Rovanpera is WRC’s youngest champion after Rally New Zealand domination 

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Rallying’s newest Flying Finn, Kalle Rovanpera, rewrote the FIA World Rally Championship record books after sealing a historic title with victory at Rally New Zealand.

At 22 years and one day old, the Toyota Gazoo Racing ace becomes the youngest driver in the history of the sport to lift the crown — sweeping aside the record previously held by Colin McRae, who won the title in 1995 aged 27 years and 89 days.

Rovanpera, co-driven by Jonne Halttunen in his hybrid GR Yaris Rally1, required seven more points than Hyundai i20 N rival Ott Tanak to seal the deal at the WRC’s Auckland-based 11th round.

With a hefty lead already earned on Saturday’s second leg, he remained unchallenged over Sunday’s final four gravel stages and emerged from the rally-ending Wolf Power Stage having done more than enough. In the end, he headed a Toyota 1-2 by 34.6s ahead of eight-time and reigning world champion Sebastien Ogier as a frustrated Tanak settled for third almost 50s behind.

Watch Sunday highlights below:

This season — only Rovanpera’s third in the WRC’s top class — proved to be nothing short of extraordinary. After a shaky start at the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, the Finn romped to three successive wins in Sweden, Croatia and Portugal.

Road-opening duties at Rally Italy Sardinia left Rovanpera down in fifth at that event, but he was soon back to winning ways, triumphing in Kenya and Estonia before further extending his advantage with second overall on his home gravel of Rally Finland.

The youngster’s form then took a brief downturn when he spectacularly rolled on the opening day of Ypres Rally Belgium. He also finished a lowly 15th in Greece last month due to another off-road excursion.

But victory in New Zealand, including fastest time on the bonus points-paying Power Stage, on just his 30th start at the WRC’s elite level leaves Rovanpera with an unassailable 64-point lead over Tanak with two rounds to go and a maximum of 60 points up for grabs.

“It’s quite a big relief after such a good season, and finally we are here,” said the newly crowned champion. “It was a small wait after a few difficult rallies, but the biggest thanks goes to the team — they made this rocket this year. Even after all the difficult rallies, they were believing in us and giving us all the support.”

Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen celebrate their decisively won FIA World Rally Championship crown. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

An emotional Jari-Matti Latvala, team principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing, stressed the importance of having another Finnish champion after a 20-year drought since Marcus Gronholm took the title in 2002.

“In a way I would like to cry, but I can’t cry here,” said Latvala. “It’s really important what Kalle has done. First of all, it’s amazing for a 22-year old to be breaking all the records and taking the championship title.

“At the same time, it is so important for Finland because it has been 20 years and that’s a very long time. I am so grateful that Kalle did it — he is a superhero.”

Tanak did earn one fastest time on Sunday’s short, sharp final leg, but with Rovanpera in imperious form — and seemingly immune to the pressure of being on the brink of a title — catching the Toyotas was always a forlorn hope for the Estonian. 

Ott Tanak tried to keep the pressure on, but his Hyundai just didn’t have the speed of the Toyotas. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

Fourth place went to Tanak’s Hyundai teammate, Thierry Neuville, whose issues included a faulty gearbox on Saturday. He trailed Tanak by 1m10.3s, but led Oliver Solberg, also driving an i20 N Rally1, by a hefty margin after the young Swede had dropped time with a Saturday misfire.

New Zealand’s technical stages took no prisoners, with Yaris pairing Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta, plus M-Sport Ford Puma youngster Gus Greensmith, all failing to restart on Sunday due to accident damage.

The drama enabled home hero Hayden Paddon to finish sixth overall as well as taking his Rally2-specification Hyundai i20 N to class glory in WRC2, the second tier of international rallying.  

Kiwi Paddon led from start to finish, collecting three further stage wins on Sunday’s final leg to end 2m33.1s ahead of Skoda Fabia Evo driver Kajetan Kajetanowicz. 

Hayden Paddon made the home crowd happy with his dominant victory in WRC2. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

Kajetanowicz was also happy and picked up 20 points from his New Zealand adventure to climb to second in the WRC2 standings behind defending champ Andreas Mikkelsen, who’s already completed his seven counting events and must now wait to see how the Pole fares in his remaining two outings.

Completing the WRC2 podium was two-time Australian Supercars champ Shane van Gisbergen. The Kiwi was making his WRC debut but wasted little time getting to grips with his Skoda, pushing Kajetanowicz hard until a puncture on Saturday’s final test halted his charge.

Up next, the WRC returns to asphalt for its penultimate round at RACC Rally Spain, Oct. 20-23. The event is based in Salou, down the coast from Barcelona, with the action taking place in the Costa Daurada hills.                      

WRC Rally New Zealand, final positions after Day Three, SS17
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h48m1.4.3s
2 Sebastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +34.6s
3 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +48.5s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m58.8s
5 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +3m55.3s
6 Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (Hyundai i20 N Rally2 – WRC2 winner) +10m3.7s
7 Lorenzo Bertelli/Lorenzo Granai (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +10m39.0s
8 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +12m36.8s
9 Shane van Gisbergen/Glen Weston (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +13m28.8s
10 Harry Bates/John McCarthy (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +16m51.6s

WRC Drivers’ Championship after 11 rounds
1
Kalle Rovanpera 237 points
2 Tanak 173
3 Neuville 144
4 Elfyn Evans 116
5 Takamoto Katsuta 100

WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 11 rounds
1
Toyota Gazoo Racing 455 points}
2 Hyundai Motorsport 374
3 M-Sport Ford 24  
4 TGR Next Generation 112

Check out WRC.com, the official home of the FIA World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a WRC+ subscription to watch all stages of every rally live and on demand, whenever and wherever.

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