Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen have become two-time WRC champions, clinching the title on Sunday by finishing second overall at Central European Rally*. By finishing runner-up to Hyundai rivals Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe at this penultimate round, the Finns ensured they could no longer be caught in the 2023 season.
125'000 spectators watched the action unfold during the last four days along the stages of Austria, Czech Republic and Germany.
Just one year ago, Rovanperä, now 23 years old, made history when he became the youngest WRC champion ever. Today he stands alongside legendary names like Carlos Sainz, Walter Röhrl and Miki Biasion as a double winner.
Entering Central European Rally with a 31-point lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Elfyn Evans, Rovanperä simply needed to maintain his advantage to claim the crown. When Evans suffered a dramatic crash on Saturday morning, the path to victory was all but assured.
Following a steady start to the season, Rovanperä and Halttunen hit their straps in May by winning Vodafone Rally de Portugal. From that moment on, the pair have only finished outside of the podium twice.
“I am feeling really good,” Rovanperä beamed. “I think this year was, for me personally, more important than last year. The competition was tighter, and we did a really good job. The biggest thank you of course goes to Jonne - he is also the world's best co-driver. I am going to enjoy this one more than the first one.”
Neuville’s capture of the outright rally victory may have been overshadowed by the champions’ celebrations, but the Belgian’s drive was worthy of high praise.
Driving a Hyundai i20 N, Neuville took control on Saturday morning and headed Rovanperä by 57.6sec to claim his 19th career victory on the slippery asphalt roads across Germany, Austria and Czech Republic.
“OveralL, we did a good job,” Neuville said. “We had good consistency which ultimately paid off. It was a team effort this weekend and we did it, so we can be proud of that.
Ott Tänak overcame a hydraulic failure on the penultimate day to finish third, almost two minutes back from the frontrunning pace in an M-Sport Ford Puma.
Sébastien Ogier fought back from wheel damage on Friday to claim fourth ahead of his Toyota-driving colleague Takamoto Katsuta. Teemu Suninen, Grégoire Munster and Adrien Fourmaux completed the top 8 ahead of Nicolas Ciamin and Pierre-Louis Loubet.
The championship comes to a close in Asia next month at FORUM8 Rally Japan. The asphalt event is based in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture and takes place from 16-19 November.
*Subject to confirmation of results by the FIA
1. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N 2h 52m 39.9s
2. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +57.5s
3. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Puma +1m 52.8s
4. S Ogier / V Landais FRA Toyota GR Yaris +2m 8.6s
5. T Katsuta / A Johnston JPN Toyota GR Yaris +2m 48.3s
6. T Suninen / M Markkula FIN Hyundai i20 N +3m 6.3s
Drivers' championship standings (after round 12 of 13)
1. K Rovanperä 235pts
2. E Evans 191pts
3. T Neuville 184pts