There were seven excellent drivers who could claim victory on Rally Croatia. Kalle Rovanperä, winner of the Rally Sweden, stepped onto Zagreb’s soil as the undisputed leader of the World Rally Championship. One suggested, but was not sure if Toyota Gazoo Racing would maintain first place. Who would have thought Kalle Rovanperä would masterfully outclass the fastest drivers on Rally Croatia in 2022?
- The major contenders for victory at Rally Croatia.
- It was a tough Friday.
- The bad boy Thierry Neuville
- Kalle Rovanperä’ rivals were already breathing down his tires’ back.
- Sunday’s tires strategy: Ott Tanak vs Kalle Rovanperä
The major contenders for victory at Rally Croatia.
While Loeb and Ogier, two Sebastiens, have been busy with other racing deals, the asphalt challenge in Zagreb is providing even more possibilities for the other rally drivers.
Always set to lead, Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak drove to Rally Croatia to score the coveted points for the team. Esapekka Lappi had a one in a million chance to get back into WRC as a full-time driver. Gus Greensmith and Craig Breen felt free to break all the records in their purple pumas of the M-Sport Ford.
Toyota Gazoo Racing drivers were breathing freely, while honorary champion Sebastien Ogier has been testing his own endurance for another Grand Prix. Elfyn Evans, Takamoto Katsuta and Kalle Rowanperä set their Toyota Yaris WRC for maximum attack. The weather promised the toughest challenge across the foggy waves.
It was a tough Friday.
Already the most difficult Friday, as it has many loops with iconic stages on the route, the weather has turned the challenge into an impossible task. Thunderclouds, fine drizzling rain, and dense fog make it so that you can only see yourself in the mirror and your co-driver, and no farther away than 10 meters! “Be careful” notifications had been coming now and then.
Because of the fog, rain and slippery turns, the greenery was so slippery that the route turned into a tricky obstacle. It automatically eliminated a few of the leading drivers who had claimed podium places. Elfyn Evans and Gus Greensmith both suffered punctures. Gus made a mistake, despite a promising start because of tricky greenery. Probably Greensmith is the driver who can tell you a lot of hours about how slippery it was. He rode in his Puma rally car like a water slide. M-Sport Ford driver suffered two punctures and car damage.
Esapekka Lappi lets Croatian dreams go on Friday.
Esapekka Lappi had been waiting for this chance for so long! To take the Toyota Yaris WRC and prove what he is worth right here in Zagreb and then back to the full-time job. He was, he could even win the Rally Croatia, but just one unfortunate mistake and Lappi is immediately out of the game. He retired his GR Yaris in the first stage after clipping a boulder and wrecking the front right corner. There was much commentary on “What a drama!” on WRC All Live, but no one could imagine how emotionally fraught the situation was for the Finn. Hope he will be back soon.
Kalle Rovanperä shows A-class driving against the fog on Rally Croatia.
The fastest drivers kept their pace on the slippery roads while Kalle Rovanperä turned his attention to driving limits on Rally Croatia. Just one extra kilometer per hour and you will be swallowed up by this foggy haze in an unknown direction. Rovanperä, confident after Rally Sweden, was the most careful driver on the roads. With a jeweler’s precision, he won three of the morning’s four special stages to lead by 47.5sec and maintained it during an equally dominant Friday!
His Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Elfyn Evans just spread his arms. In the third test, Evans beat Rovanperä by 2.6 seconds, but only for a short period.
If you asked Thierry Neuville how he found the conditions in Zagreb, he would reply ‘horrible!’ However, this did not prevent him from finishing second behind Kalle Rovanperä. Rally Croatia will remain a terrible dream for Hyundai Motorsport driver. Thierry is a man who is not afraid to break the rules, or a ‘bad boy’, as they say. In almost two cases, Neuville stood out.
The bad boy Thierry Neuville
Thierry Neuville and his co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe were just 12.5sec adrift of leader Kalle Rovanperä after the opening four special stages of Friday. Then their Hyundai i20 N stopped on the edge of Croatia’s capital city with alternator problems. They restarted the rally car but damn; it stopped again!
The crew literally had pushed their Hyundai i20 N iron horse for 800 meters to reach the time control. Tired and exhausted, Wydaeghe fell to the floor as he gasped for breath. The crew lost four minutes and got the 40sec penalty, which relegated the pair to fourth, 52.5sec adrift of leader Rovanperä.
“We will fight back.” – declared Thierry Neuville, who started the Hyundai i20 N and flew away so fast that nothing could stop Belgian, even speed limits. Therefore, Thierry Neuville got a €1900 fine for driving at 156kph in an 80kph zone. Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe and team manager Pablo Marcos attended the hearing that evening. Let’s cut to the chase as Saturday brings a recent case for Hyundai Motorsport’s crew.
Following Oliver Solberg’s crash in a blind zone, the organizers canceled Saturday’s SS9 as soon as it launched. Oliver drove off the road for 3.9km, losing the rear of the car at high speed. However, Elfyn Evans, Esapekka Lappi, Thierry Neuville, Pierre-Louis Loubet, Takamoto Katsuta and Gus Greensmith have completed the test. While the safety team helped Solberg and his co-driver, Elliott Edmondson, Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 N was traveling as fast as there was no one around, which could have been dangerous.
Following a small investigation, the safety team and crew # 11 both said that the track was clear, and Hyundai has confirmed that both Solberg and co-driver Elliott Edmondson are fine.
Kalle Rovanperä’ rivals were already breathing down his tires’ back.
Saturday afternoon finally brought a breath of fresh air as the sun came back out of the clouds. Some rally professionals had retired one by one, while others kept on running to close the gap to the uncatchable Kalle Rovanpera. Craig Breen came as the last chance for M-Sport Ford to grab the podium, but his pace wasn’t enough. Despite the 47.3sec gap on Friday, step by step carefully, Estonian star Ott Tanak was getting closer and closer, dangerously.
Sunday’s tires strategy: Ott Tanak vs Kalle Rovanperä
Here was the lone mistake for Kalle Rovanperä on Rally Croatia 2022, as his tires’ choice played a cruel joke on him. Finn ordered his combat Yaris WRC tyres to be changed from wet to hard tyres. Ott Tanak took a soft Pirelli compound. Hyundai i20 N recorded a 1.4s time!
Rovanperä, mature beyond his years, lamented, “I do not know where this weather comes from”. Finn had 75 minutes to think before the 14.09km Wolf Power Stage. The sun came out, and the roads were dry again, and his mindset changed. Although he wasn’t sure everything was possible, Kalle had more than a minute to spare over Thierry Neuville. He had nothing to lose and remained true to himself and his choices.
The bid worked, as a downpour turned the event on its head in the final kilometers! After the first split at almost 6 km, the GR Yaris was exactly a second faster. At the next timing point, the margin was up to nearly 4 seconds! At the finish, the clock showed a 5.7seconds advantage. Kalle Rovanperä claimed an epic victory in Rally Croatia by 4.3 seconds. He won in every sense of the word. The words are needless.
Later, Ott Tanak claimed that “we were clever with tyres”. Tanak may have even stepped onto the first step, but still he made a heroic deed as Hyundai Motorsport moved up to second in the manufacturers’ championship. Thierry Neuville backed up Tank with a drama-filled third place.
Rally Croatia 2022 is definitely one highlight of the FIA World Rally Championship. Meanwhile, we’re setting our course for Vodafone Rally de Portugal. The challenge will take place at Matosinhos on 19 – 22 May. Rally Portugal promises to throw us a lot of surprises, as Sebastiens Ogier and Loeb will compete in the first gravel challenge in the FIA World Rally Championship calendar 2022. The legendary Dani Sordo will also take the wheel of the third Hyundai Rally car.