Driving – Generation K – Residents of Portugal

A 22-year-old boy is currently the best rally driver in the world. Can he become the best…ever?

Harri Rovanpera was a good rally driver. He raced in the World Rally Championship from 1993 to 2006 and was often a fan favorite at gravel events where he usually excelled.

His greatest racing success was fifth place overall in 2001, just eight points behind title winner Richard Burns, despite missing two rallies during the year. Had he competed in both events, he would have had a shot at first place. In the end he only won one rally, the Swedish round of the WRC in 2001.

Like many who have come before and after him, Rovanpera was gifted behind the wheel, someone who could connect with a car in ways you and I can only dream of, but there was always someone even better as he.

However, when Harri was the first on the 50thth At the end of the Rally Sweden, on February 11, 2001, his most important act in the history of motorsport had already taken place. On October 1, 2000, he gave birth to his son, a little boy whom he named Kalle.

FIA World Rally Championship 2022 / Round 11 / Rally New Zealand 2022 / September 29 – October 2, 2022// Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

And at just 22 years old, Kalle became the youngest ever World Rally Champion. He was actually 22 and a day old when he celebrated his birthday on the eve of his title. Unlike his father, Kalle is not a gifted driver – Kalle is a genius, one of the greats of all time. It would be risky to write this about someone so young, but I’m not the only one saying that.

His peers, his competitors, ex-racers, the entire specialized press, everyone is in awe of this boy who won his first world rally event at the age of 20 (also a record) and has already claimed six wins in eleven outings this year . He already sealed the championship two rallies before the end.

Also, unlike his father and really most other drivers, he is no better on any given surface. The fact is that he won in Sweden in the snow; in Portugal on gravel; the safari rally on a mixture of sand and mud. Only Tarmac is missing from his list, but Spain and Japan are two more opportunities he doesn’t want to miss in 2022 – and who would bet against him?

You see, Kalle is the latest, greatest Flying Finn, a term coined to describe the best riders from Finland, which is by far the country that has produced more racing greats than any other nation.

On the rally side, there’s Timo Makinen (four rally wins), Rauno Aaltonen (six podiums), Hannu Mikkola (one world championship, 18 rally wins), Markku Alén (one world championship, 19 rally wins), Juha Kankkunen ( four world championships, 23 rally wins), Tommi Makinen (four world championships, 24 rally wins), Marcus Grönholm (two world championships, 30 rally wins) and now Kalle. In Formula 1 you have Mika Häkkinen (two world championships, 20 race wins) and Kimi Raikkonen (one world championship and 21 race wins).

Driving - Generation K
FIA World Rally Championship 2022 / Round 11 / Rally New Zealand 2022 / September 29 – October 2, 2022// Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

There is a pretty good explanation for this and if you google “Kalle Rovanpera 8 years old” you will immediately understand. In Finland it is normal for children to ride on ice and gravel on closed roads as they can reach the pedals. I think it’s a cultural thing in families that are racing related or just interested in motorsport.

And because they start so early, they develop faster than others. And because so many of them do, there are simply more very good Finnish drivers out there than French or Germans or Italians or (insert country if you like).

In the case of Kalle, his father trained him as a rally driver when he was a small child. And to all the work he’s done, he’s adding a talent that only comes along once in a generation. In addition to rallying, he is a drifting champion in Finland. He does it because he enjoys it – and he says it also improves his rallying skills. But he’s also a national hero and the biggest topic of conversation in the country right now.

Finland loves cars and racing and since the arrival of the two Frenchmen named Sébastien (that’s Loeb with nine titles and Ogier with eight) Finland hasn’t had a rally champion in 20 years.

Kalle was barely two years old when his compatriot Marcus Gronholm clinched the title in 2002, but now he’s set to be the man – I mean the boy – to beat in the next decade. And it’s really a pleasure to watch. It seems he never pushes too hard; He only takes the car as far as it needs to be faster than everyone else.

Which car? The current icon Toyota GR Yaris Rally 1. Just like the street version, the rally car is just better than anything else, while Kalle is just (much) faster than everyone else.

Kalle and the Yaris are a couple made in heaven and logic says they will be unbeatable in 2023. But he’ll have a kind of pressure on him that he’s never felt before. He has to win. The stage is set for a fabulous season and my spot on the living room sofa is booked.

Through Guilherme Marques

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