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Latvala could sense “different level” Rovanpera WRC display in Portugal

Toyota World Rally Championship boss Jari-Matti Latvala says he could sense that Kalle Rovanpera would perform at a “different level” at Rally Portugal.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

The reigning world champion has so far produced a faultless display to head into Sunday’s final four stages with a 57.5s lead over Hyundai’s Dani Sordo.

Rovanpera has endured a quiet start to his title defence by his own high standards, with the 22-year-old yet to score a victory this year. His last visit to the top step of the podium came in New Zealand last October.

The Finn has also been absent form the podium since the opening round in Monte Carlo, having finished fourth in the previous three rounds in Sweden, Mexico and Croatia as road position and tyre issues hampered his progress.

However, this weekend Rovanpera has produced form that saw him dominate the 2022 campaign. Five stage wins from Saturday’s seven tests, including a stunning effort to win stage nine by 12.8s, has propelled the Toyota driver into a commanding lead, but his performance hasn’t surprised Latvala.

“Of course when you achieve the title it is natural that you might lose a little bit of motivation,” Latvala told Autosport.

“There is combination of other factors. He has been a little bit unlucky with road position and then the car hasn’t been 100% correct.

“I could sense at the beginning of this rally that he is at a different level compared to other events.”

When asked what was the most impressive part of Rovanpera’s dominant Saturday, Latvala added: “He didn’t need to push so much anymore because he managed to get the lead, but he was still taking stage wins in the afternoon.

Kalle Rovanperä, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

“It seems as though it is coming very early and he is very happy with the car and has a good feeling. I think this is the thing with Kalle, when he has this feeling then he is able to attack very hard.

“He is maybe a little bit more sensitive than other drivers with the set-up. If the car is not exactly right, he is not necessarily able to attack that hard.”

Rovanpera admitted his day was one of the best he’s had this season to date, but didn’t think his performance was overly special.

“I was a bit surprised at how big the gaps were this morning, but other than that I was trying to push hard,” Rovanpera told Autosport.

“This year there has been a few good days, but this is one of the best for sure.

“I think a better starting place compared to yesterday, a bit of a different set-up and let’s say the right good feeling in the car has helped.”

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