Tuesday | 04 Oct 2022

Remembering when: WRC champion Rovanperä almost won on ERC debut

Prior to taking the FIA World Rally Championship by storm, Kalle Rovanperä used the FIA European Rally Championship to try out international competition for the first time.

Six days after turning 17, the Finn entered Rally Liepāja in October 2017 and came close to winning after a close battle with fellow youngster Nikolay Gryazin, who turned 20 on the opening day of the Latvian event.

The promising pair were evenly matched on leg one’s stages that had been made more challenging by heavy rain in the region, with minor technical issues – plus a time-consuming overshoot on the day’s final gravel test – delaying Rovanperä in a Ford Fiesta R5.

“On the last junction we go straight,” Rovanperä said at the time. “It was a stupid mistake but I’m trying to learn the car and not take any stupid risks.”

Gryazin started the deciding leg 18.3s ahead of Rovanperä but came under instant pressure when the Finn outpaced him by 7.1s on the first stage of the day. That result cut Gryazin’s lead to 10.2s, which became 10.1s when Rovanperä went quickest again on SS9. 

But Gryazin responded in style on SS10, going fastest by 7.1s, before eventually winning the rally by 18.5s on a day when Chris Ingram won the FIA Junior ERC title.

During the press conference afterwards, Rovanperä said: “For sure it was quite a difficult race because the conditions were like raining or muddy and sometimes good conditions. It’s like that sometimes. It was a new car for me and it’s not easy to go to the limit with a new car. It’s easy to go fast with every car but with limit you just need kilometres. We are getting them and we are getting faster all the time and it’s a really nice battle all the time.”

Co-driver Jonne Halttunen added: “It was the first time with M-Sport, they did everything good. We did a lot of changes with the car, with the set-up and it was very good. With Kalle he’s learning with the new car and improving a lot during the race. Overall it was a super performance. The car is new - okay, it’s an R5 car - but it’s totally different to the Škoda and I think he managed quite well. This was a good test race for Rally GB when we will try to show the speed there.”

Three weeks later, Rovanperä and Halttunen made their WRC debuts. Restarting on leg two following a puncture on the opening day, they eventually placed 15th in WRC2 after going third fastest in class on the Power Stage.