Kalle Rovanperä has become the youngest driver to claim the FIA World Rally Championship after dominating the Repco Rally New Zealand in Auckland today.
The 22-year-old wrapped up the world title with two events in hand, set-up with a superb performance in the wildly wet conditions on Saturday and he controlled things with a maturity beyond his years today.
He was fastest in two of the four stages, second fastest in the other two which culminated with a stunning victory in the final stage which doubled as the Wolf Power stage, earning additional bonus points at the exciting Jacks Ridge Huanui stage.
Rovanperä becomes the first Finn to win the world championship in two decades, and his win in Auckland, his fourth of the year, was one better place than his father Harri achieved in the 2002 Rally New Zealand.
“It’s quite a big relief after such a big season. My biggest thanks go to the team. They made this rocket this year reliable and fast car, and even after some difficult rallies they always believed in us and keep giving us support,” said Rovanperä.
Thanks to the team and everyone out there a big thank you. To all my sponsors and my friends who have been there from the start, that is the biggest “thing when we started rallying.
The victory also propelled his Toyota Gazoo Racing team into a significant advantage in the battle of the manufacturers.
His teammate, eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier held solid in second place to shield Rovanperä from the chasing Ott Tänak (Hyundai) who has been chasing down the differential for the last three WRC events.
The Hyundai driver however was gracious in defeat.
“We had quite a good weekend. This weekend yes or no, Kalle and Toyota have been very, very strong. They have beaten everybody fair and square, no question at all. Hopefully everything goes well for Kalle and congratulations to Harri – he has done a great job as a father to raise up such a kid. He should be very proud of him.”
Rovanperä and Tänak, along with Ogier, shared the spoils on the four stages today – double loops of Whitford Forest and the exciting Jacks Ridge, a purpose-built stadium-stage In front of 13,000 fans.
Rovanperä was fastest through special stage 16 at Whitford Forest while Tänak won the first run through Jacks Ridge. Ogier took out the repeat run at Whitford Forest while Rovanperä, able to coast home for the win, instead pushed hard to pip Tänak by 0.6s to claim the power stage at Jacks Ridge.
The young Finn finished Repco Rally New Zealand with a 34.6s margin to teammate Ogier, with 48.5s to Tanak.
There was plenty to celebrate for Kiwi rally fans with Hayden Paddon, the former PWRC world champion and a WRC winner in Argentina, dominating the WRC2 category and in doing so finished a remarkable sixth place overall.
Along the way he cemented his sixth New Zealand Rally Championship, and again showed his international class, with his focus now on the development of the first all-electric rally car and his pathway back to the top echelon of the sport.
“It has been a very long two and a half days, since stage three we’ve been trying to manage it and not do anything silly, as much as we would have loved to be pushing it on these roads,” said Paddon.
“Awesome weekend, huge thanks to our team, to Hyundai New Zealand and everyone who made this programme possible. It’s a big tick in the box. I am very, very happy to get this done.”
Paddon dominated the WRC2 final day, winning three of the four stages to claim the honours by a massive 2m33s from Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz with a remarkable third place to fellow kiwi Shane van Gisbergen at 3:25 behind the winner.
“This is not tough – I am driving a rally car in the World Rally Championship – it’s pretty cool,” said van Gisbergen. “Glen and I have had a great time. Thanks to our team, and our supporters. I am living my dream and so to get a podium then I am stoked. I have had a ball.”
Van Gisbergen has little time to draw breath, flying out on Monday for Bathurst where the current Supercars championship leader will attempt to win for the second time at the Mountain.
While the event had to cope with a drenching on Friday, there has been widespread praise from WRC teams and drivers on the return to what many consider the best rallying roads in the world.
Organisers are already involved in discussions to enable a more regular place on the WRC calendar in the future for the event that has brought in many millions of dollars of new money to the local economy.