Past meets future on Rally Finland: when Marcus met Kalle (and Harri...

Past meets future on Rally Finland: when Marcus met Kalle (and Harri was there too)


Allow us to explain. Kalle Rovanpera is the son of Harri Rovanpera, who used to be Marcus Gronholm’s team mate at Peugeot – so they know each other rather well. Kalle also happens to be a successful driver in his own right, having already won the Latvian Rally Championship and two rounds of this year’s Finnish Rally Championship.

Marcus Gronholm, Harri Rovanpera
Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera

That in itself isn’t so unusual. What’s more unconventional is the fact that Kalle is only 16. And when the young Finn won his first title, he was only 15. He’s quiet, unassuming, hardworking and modest: with the face of an angel but the right foot of a devil. Everything it takes to become World Rally Champion, in other words.

Legend Marcus Gronholm and rising star Kalle Rovanpera met during Rally Finland

Harri came along as well and many laughs were had. 33 years separate Kalle and Marcus. At the age Kalle is now, Marcus was riding motocross bikes and dreaming of becoming a bike champion. Rallying hadn’t even entered his head! It was only when Marcus injured his knees too badly to carry on that he considered driving as an option. Kalle, by contrast, was driving rally cars from the age of eight.

But Marcus knows only too well the challenges facing young drivers with a famous name, as his own son Niclas is an up-and-coming star of rallycross.

“I think it’s possible that there’s something genetic about driving that gets passed on from father to son,” says Marcus. “But it’s also true that if you’re a well-known driver, you have connections in the sport that you can use to help your son, so it’s easier to get hold of the material. But then they have to drive it, and that’s the hard part. So, I really admire Kalle: I think he’s got huge talent and a great chance to become World Rally Champion one day, although of course there’s still a long road ahead.”

Kalle Rovanpera, Harri Rovanpera
Kalle and Harri Rovanpera

Kalle has yet to make his World Rally Championship debut, which will hopefully happen later this year

Because of his age, he has to be given special dispensation to compete, and his co-driver Risto Pietilainen – who happened to be his dad’s co-driver as well – has to drive the road sections.

As well as competing in Finland and Latvia, Kalle is also doing some rallies in Italy this year. There, he faces an added complication during the recce, when the crews drive slowly over the stages before the rally starts, to make their pace notes. Kalle is not allowed to drive on public roads there and all roads are public during the recce. Thus his dad will drive a right-hand drive car over the stages, which allows Rovanpera junior to sit in the left-hand seat and see the road from a driver’s perspective. He can then dictate the pace notes to his co-driver Risto Pietiläinen, sitting in the back. It’s not an ideal system but it just about works.

Finland and Latvia is a bit easier, as there Kalle is allowed to drive on the recce with a qualified driver alongside him. In other words, his co-driver. It’s all going to get a lot more straightforward when Kalle finally gets his driving licence. This will happen after he turns 17 in October. And then he’ll be able to drive in the World Rally Championship, maybe on Rally Great Britain.