Hybrid rally car is tricky to drive, says Rovanpera
It was the debut of the long-awaited hybrid-powered Rally1 cars. New cars, new technology and, with Sébastien Ogier only committing to a part-time schedule, a guaranteed new champion at the end of the season.
“I think the balance of the car is really tricky for me to drive,” Rovanperä said of his GR Yaris after dropping 42.8sec across 23.25 kilometres on the second stage of the WRC’s 50th anniversary season. “It’s quite difficult for me.”
Things soon began to look up for the young Finn. Having ended the opening pair of stages way down in 12th overall, he climbed to ninth on Friday and by Saturday was setting stage-winning times.
Ending Rallye Monte-Carlo in fourth place, perhaps Rovanperä hadn’t made such a bad start
It was one month later in Umeå when Rovanperä really established himself as a serious title contender. Opening the roads on the snow and ice of Rally Sweden, he managed his studded Pirelli tyres to perfection to end Friday’s opening leg just behind Thierry Neuville.
When Saturday came, he pounced - taking the lead on the very first stage and holding off charging team-mate Elfyn Evans to remain at the fore.
A nighttime attack made all the difference when, under darkness, Rovanperä threw caution to the wind, extending his advantage over the Welshman from 1.2sec to 8.3sec heading into a short final day.
When Evans slammed into a snowbank, it was game set and match. Rovanperä emulated the actions of his father Harri from 21 years prior to take career victory number three.
Now he was on a roll. April’s Croatia Rally - the first asphalt fixture of the hybrid era - produced some of the most thrilling scenes the WRC had seen in a long time.
Rovanperä led from the start only for a storm in the penultimate speed test wiping out his hard-earned advantage.
A resurgent Ott Tänak, whose gamble on softer Pirelli tyres gave his Hyundai i20 N a performance edge on the streaming asphalt, grabbed a 1.4sec lead before the Wolf Power Stage - but the Yaris driver threw caution to the wind and remarkably overturned that deficit to win by 4.3sec, extending his points lead to 29 after just three rounds.
The hat-trick was completed just weeks later at Vodafone Rally de Portugal. After trailing Evans for the opening two days, Rovanperä relegated his team-mate late in the penultimate leg.
He extended his advantage further on Sunday - winning the rally and taking five bonus points on the Wolf Power Stage to leave Porto 46 points ahead.