*The ‘Max Verstappen of rallying’ gets M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5 for Rally Liepāja
*Young Finn considering selected ERC appearances in 2018
*Malcolm Wilson: “We look forward to seeing his performance against ERC regulars”
Highly-rated teenager Kalle Rovanperä has chosen the FIA European Rally Championship season-closing Rally Liepāja for his international event debut.
The high-speed Latvian gravel rally from 6-8 October begins five days after the Finn, the son of ex-world championship factory driver Harri, turns 17 and will mark his first outing in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta R5.
“I’m looking forward to good competition and, of course, it’s my first rally with the Fiesta so I’ll concentrate on the set-up of the car and to get to know the car better,” said Rovanperä, who turns 17 on 1 October and tackled the national section of Rally Liepāja in 2016. “I think I have gained some speed and made my pacenotes better [since then]. I only have pressure from myself because I always push to be better.”
Rovanperä, who is being touted as a future world champion, made his competition debut in Latvia – where drivers are allowed to rally before they are old enough to hold a driving licence under a special permit – in 2013. He claimed the country’s LRC1 title in 2016 – his first season in R5 machinery – and spent 2017 competing in the Italian championship in addition to events in Latvia and his native Finland.
He will be one of 32 drivers holding ERC priority status entered on Rally Liepāja and one of 11 competing in a top-of-the-range R5 car. And while his programme for 2018 will focus on a world championship campaign, selected ERC events are under consideration as Rovanperä builds his experience of high-level competition against fellow young talents and more experienced drivers. “For sure the ERC has been on the calendars of many Finnish drivers and it’s a great place to race. I am going to drive next year in WRC and maybe in some ERC races,” said Rovanperä, who will be co-driven by compatriot Jonne Halttunen.
And of the comparisons in the media with Max Verstappen, the youngest winner of a Formula One grand prix aged 18 years and 227 days, Rovanperä said: “I have heard that and I think it’s quite funny. For sure we doing great in our own cars.”
Commenting on Rovanperä’s ERC debut in Latvia, M-Sport Managing Director Malcolm Wilson OBE said: “We are delighted to have rally’s newest sensation in our car. We are looking forward to seeing his performance against the regular ERC competitors. Despite this being his first time in the Ford Fiesta R5, his Latvian experience should help him to perform well.”
ERC Co-ordinator Jean-Baptiste Ley added: “It’s a pleasure to welcome Kalle to the ERC. We have followed Kalle’s performances since his participation on Rally Liepāja last year and were already impressed by his pace, rewarding him with the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy. Adding the name of Kalle Rovanperä to the list of young ERC talents starting their international career at R5 level is a reward for all the efforts we put behind training young drivers to climb to the top of the sport.”