Finnish driver Kalle Rovanpera (L) and co-driver Jonne Halttunen of Toyota celebrate a second straight world rally title

Paris (AFP) - World rally champion Kalle Rovanpera confirmed Monday he will follow former eight-time titleholder Sebastien Ogier’s example by competing only in selected races next season.

Rovanpera, 23, wrapped up his second world title at the end of October and the season finished with the Rally Japan on Sunday.

“The biggest reason for this is that I have been driving rally cars for 15 years already, which is quite a long time, and while the last seasons have been amazing of course, they have also been really demanding mentally and physically,” the Finn said in a statement released by his Toyota team.

Rovanpera started rallying with his father Harri – himself a former driver – at the age of eight.

Meanwhile, Ogier, now 39, only seriously took up rally driving at the age of 22.

“I felt that now would be a good moment to take a year for recharging the batteries, and then come back again full-time to fight for the championship once more with a full attack,” continued Rovanpera, who signed a multi-year contract with the team, who are reigning world champions in the category.

“I’m looking forward to doing some drifting and maybe some other cool events as well as the rallies which we will be selecting next year,” he said, the day after the season-ending Rally Japan.

Rovanpera last year became the youngest champion in WRC history, the latest achievement in a career marked by several milestones.

In 2020, he became the youngest driver to stand on a WRC podium, in Sweden, then the youngest leader of an event, the youngest classification leader and the youngest winner of a WRC round, dethroning compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala, now his boss at Toyota, in 2021.

French driver Sebastien Ogier competing in the Acropolis Rally in Greece on September 9, 2023

“His talent is indisputable, he has effectively proven it in recent seasons by being extremely efficient,” Frenchman Ogier told AFP.

“But what appeals the most, despite his young age, is his maturity and his decision proves it.”

Ogier, who won the last of his eight titles in 2021, will be involved in a partial programme for the third consecutive year with Toyota.

In addition to Ogier and Rovanpera, Toyota will next year field British driver Elfyn Evans, the 2023 world runner-up, and Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta, who will compete a full season.

- Losing momentum -

Rovanpera’s decision comes at a time when the discipline is losing momentum – and Ogier pointed the finger at the organisers.

“Unfortunately, there are not many manufacturers (Toyota and Hyundai, and a private team supported by Ford) and not a lot of cars at the start in the premier category,” explained Ogier, who opted for semi-retirement to devote more time to his family.

“It’s obvious that this is not fantastic news but it is perhaps also another sign to provoke a reaction.

“We’re a little disappointed with the way it (the championship) is being managed at the moment,” he continued.

“This decision will push the authorities that manage us, whether promoter or FIA, to try to give new impetus to this sport.”

If Toyota and Hyundai are currently the only two manufacturers fully committed to the championship, Renault are pushing the WRC for the field to go all-electric.

This is not currently the case, since the cars in the premier category have, since last year, been equipped with hybrid engines.