Rovanperä is the youngest driver ever to lead the FIA World Rally Championship

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team driver Kalle Rovanperä secured the coveted position after scooping a strong second place with co-driver Jonne Halttunen at Arctic Rally Finland. The dynamic duo also achieved the fastest time on the rally-ending Power Stage in their Toyota Yaris WRC.

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Twenty-year-old Rovanperä was among the pacesetters from the very beginning of the rally. The demanding race began with an exciting shakedown on the first day followed by two challenging passes of the longest test of the rally: 31.05 kilometres of Sarriojärvi.

Rovanperä battled twisting turns and snowbanks during the first pass, yet still managed to record the third best time. His confidence grew during the repeat pass, which took place in darkness: he secured the second quickest time, just 20 seconds behind the rally leader.

Winners face a challenging course

Still riding high from their one-two finish at Rallye Monte-Carlo last month, Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans opened the road at the beginning of the race, resulting in a trickier start than their competitors due to loose snow and less grip, following unusually milder temperatures.

Ogier faced the worst of the conditions during the initial rally stages, but Evans managed to overcome them, claiming the fifth fastest time in both stages.

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Pushing through arctic conditions

Rovanperä made gains on the second and longest day of the race. He overtook competitors, propelling himself into second place in the second stage of the day, Kaihuavaara, during which Evans led a 1-2-3 for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally team. Rovanperä went one step further, posting the fastest time on the repeat stage in the afternoon. Now he was only 24.1 seconds from the lead, while Evans closed the gap between himself and the driver in fourth position to only 10.1 seconds.

Ogier battled on after a tough start, keeping a steady pace – but a collision with a snowbank meant a restart on the third day.

Perseverance pays off for the youngest driver

Rovanperä and Halttunen kicked off the final day strongly, extending their margin over third-place by 0.1 seconds during the first pass of the gruelling 22.47-kilometre Aittajärvi test. The repeat pass also served as the Power Stage, offering extra points for fastest times. Rovanperä swiped the best by 0.3 seconds, taking the second overall by 2.3 seconds – the best result of his FIA WRC career to date. The ambitious driver also claimed the maximum five bonus points on offer towards both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ standings, and now leads the championship by four points over his nearest rival. He is the youngest ever WRC driver to be in this position.

Although thrilled with his finish, Rovanperä is not one to rest on his laurels, already considering what the next race will entail: “I’m really pleased with the second place. It was quite a difficult weekend, I was pushing really hard and we couldn’t always be on the optimal pace, but we were fighting back all the time. In the Power Stage I gave everything that I had and it was enough, so we got really good points from here.

“It’s really nice to be in this position now, leading the championship for the first time. It’s going to be a new situation for me going to the next event, and we just have to keep up the pace and be consistent like we have been here.”

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Evans and Ogier don’t give up easily

After a challenging few days, Evans flew into fifth at the end of the rally, ensuring the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally team continues to lead the manufacturer’s championship with an 11-point advantage. He achieved the fastest time in the first stage of the day and kept the pressure on, missing out on fourth place by just 8.9 seconds. Evans is now joint third in the championship with Ogier, who despite having a difficult weekend, still won an additional point for fifth in the Power Stage.

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally team Challenge Program driver Takamoto Katsuta also gained sixth place on the very last stage in his Yaris WRC, matching the career-best result he achieved on the opening round of the season in Monte Carlo.

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Next up for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally team

The drivers head to the city of Zagreb in April, for the first ever WRC event in Croatia. The team will be put through their paces on a very different track – asphalt roads around the capital.