Croatia Rally’s reputation as one of the most challenging rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship was maintained when overnight leader Thierry Neuville crashed out on SS11, the all-new Ravna Gora - Skrad test this morning (Saturday).
From being 10.8 seconds behind Neuville after today’s opening pair of stages – Kostanjevac - Petruš Vrh and Vinski Vrh - Duga Resa – Elfyn Evans, driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid alongside co-driver Scott Martin, completed the morning loop with an advantage of 22.6s over Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid).
Esapekka Lappi, in a Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, is third but from being 3.4s behind Tänak after Friday’s action, the Finn, who is co-driven by countryman Janne Ferm, trails the Estonian by 22.2s prior to Saturday afternoon’s loop when this morning’s stages will be repeated.
Evans, runner-up on Croatia Rally 2021 by 0.6s, started leg two trailing Neuville by 5.7s. The gap widened to 10.5s at the end of SS9 after Welsh driver Evans reported being “just a little bit too careful on the gravel cuts”. He dropped a further 0.3s to Neuville on SS10, explaining that “it felt like a pretty okay push but probably a bit scrappy at the end”. He also said that he “lost my line a bit in the very slippy parts at the end”.
But after Neuville crashed out on a right-hand bend 5.2 kilometres from the start of SS11, Evans moved in front by 19.1s over Tänak. And the two-time world championship runner-up increased that margin to 22.6s on the Platak stage, SS12, despite reporting a near-miss at the finish of the run located in view of the Adriatic Sea.
“The surface at the end we knew was low on grip but I skimmed the barrier with the rear bumper twice, there wasn’t a lot of room left, it was measured,” he said afterwards.
With Friday’s mixed weather conditions making way for bright sunshine, world champion and Croatia Rally 2022 winner Kalle Rovanperä claimed a trio of fastest stage times running first on the road. Sébastien Ogier ended his Toyota team-mate’s sequence on SS12 to move to within 1.4s of fourth-placed M-Sport Ford driver Pierre-Louis Loubet.
Ogier could have been closer to the lead pack but for two time penalties. The first, a one-minute penalty, has handed out after the event stewards determined that his co-driver Vincent Landais had violated safety harness rules after they stopped to change a damaged wheel on SS2. A further 10 seconds were added to the French pair’s total time after an issue on the liaison section to this morning’s first stage meant they checked in 60 seconds behind schedule.
Takamoto Katsuta lost position to Ogier on SS12 and is 1.2s behind his fellow Toyota driver. Rovanperä is seventh following his delays on leg one but is only 2.1s down on Katsuta.
Yohan Rossel (Citroën C3 Rally2) leads WRC2 in eighth overall. He’s 29.2s ahead of fellow Frenchman and WRC2 rival Nicolas Ciamin (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5). Ciamin demoted Nikolay Gryazin (Škoda Fabia RS Rallly2) one position on SS12 and the change of places means Ciamin now heads Gryazin in the WRC2 Challenger category.
Laurent Pellier moved to the top of the Junior WRC order after William Creighton rolled into retirement on SS9. Pellier leads Diego Domínguez and Tom Rensonnet in JWRC and is ahead of Rensonnet and Eamonn Kelly in WRC3.
Arrmin Kremer’s advantage in the WRC Masters Cup over Mauro Miele stands at 2m28.3s.
Tomas Hrvatin, driving a Renault Clio Rally4, is the top Croatian driver. He’s in 34th position after 12 stages.
A second run through the 23.76-kilometre Kostanjevac - Petruš Vrh stage opens Saturday afternoon’s timed action from 15:54 CET.