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Flying Finn takes rally gold

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Kalle Rovanpera behind the wheel of his Toyota Gazoo Racing rally car at the event in Whitford on October 2. Photo supplied Jaanus Ree, Red Bull Content Pool

Finland’s Kalle Rovanpera demonstrated sublime car control to claim the crown as youngest driver to win the FIA World Rally Championship at the final stage in rural east Auckland.

The 22-year-old, driving his Toyota Gazoo Racing rally car, dominated this year’s Repco Rally New Zealand held in Auckland from September 29 to October 2.

The competition’s final stage was run in front of 13,000 fans at the Whitford family farm of former New Zealand rally champion Andrew Hawkeswood.

Among the motorsport stars on show were France’s Sebastien Ogier, an eight-time winner of the World Rally Drivers’ Championship, and Kiwi aces Hayden Paddon and Shane van Gisbergen, among others.

Rovanpera wrapped up the world title with two events to go, set up with a superb performance in the wildly wet conditions on Saturday and controlled things with a maturity beyond his years on Sunday.

He was fastest in two of the four stages and second fastest in the other two, culminating with a stunning victory in the final ‘Wolf Power Stage’, earning additional bonus points at the 7km purpose-built Jacks Ridge Huanui stage in Whitford.

Rovanpera became the first Finn to win the World Championship in two decades.

His victory in Auckland, his fourth of the year, was one place better than his father Harri achieved in the 2002 Rally NZ.

“It’s quite a big relief after such a big season,” Rovanpera said after his victory.

“My biggest thanks go to the team.

“Even after some difficult rallies they always believed in us and keep giving us support.

“Thanks to the team and everyone out there.

“A big thank you to all my sponsors and friends who have been there from the start.”

Rovanpera was the fastest driver through the special stage at Whitford Forest while Estonian Ott Tanak won the first run though Jacks Ridge.

Ogier took out the second run through the forest while Rovanpera pushed hard to pip Tanak by less than a second to claim the power stage at Jacks Ridge.

The flying Finn finished the Repco Rally NZ with a winning margin of 34.6 seconds in front of Ogier.

His victory propelled his Toyota Gazoo Racing team into a significant advantage in the battle of the manufacturers.

Tanak fought hard the whole way and was gracious in defeat.

“We had quite a good weekend,” he says.

“This weekend … Kalle and Toyota have been very, very strong.

“They’ve beaten everybody fair and square, no question at all.

“Hopefully everything goes well for Kalle and congratulations to Harri.

“He has done a great job as a father to raise such a kid. He should be very proud of him.”

Van Gisbergen finished the event ninth overall.

He flew out on Monday to prepare for the famous Repco Bathurst 1000 Supercars Championship race in New South Wales.

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