The race to be crowned the 2023 World Rally Champion will go right down to the wire this season, according to Toyota Gazoo Racing's Kalle Rovanpera.
The Finn became the youngest ever winner of the competition last October aged 22 years and one day, bettering the record previously held by the late Colin McRae who was 27 years and 89 days.
Rovanpera sealed the title at Rally New Zealand – his sixth victory of an utterly dominant campaign that returned a total of eight podium finishes with team-mate and countryman, Jonne Halttunen.
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However, his defence has been something of a stop-start so far this year, with his best performance after four events coming at January's Rallye Monte-Carlo where he finished runner-up to Sebastien Ogier.
Yet despite rallies Sweden, Mexico and Croatia all returning fourth place results, the openness of the Championship means he is currently third on 68 points in the standings – one in arrears of the GR Yaris Rally1 cars of joint leaders Ogier and Elfyn Evans.
For that reason, he is remaining relaxed looking ahead to this weekend's Rally de Portugal, which he won in style 12 months ago by going fastest on the points paying Power Stage to finish 15.2s clear of the chasing pack.
“I'm really happy to be going back to Portugal,” he said. “It has always been an event that I have liked quite a lot, and last year we were able to win it even though we were starting as the first car on the road.
“It's a rally that as drivers we all know fairly well with some legendary stages, so the pace is always high and it should be quite an equal fight.”
Asked about his assessment of the season so far, Rovanpera added: “The start of our year has not been perfect – I was aiming for bigger results – but we are still very much in this close championship fight: I don't think it has been so tight after four rounds for a very long time.
“This series of gravel events will not be easy but we're going to continue to push hard and hopefully get good results.”
Rovanpera and Evans have again been nominated to score Manufacturers' points for round five of the World Rally Championship, with Ogier sitting out the gravel counter as part of his car share arrangement. That means Takamoto Katsuta completes the Japanese squad's three car ‘works' line-up.