Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin won an emotional WRC Croatia Rally
The fourth round of the World Rally Championship season was held in Croatia last weekend. The group photo of the WRC family and a moment of silence on the opening and closing podiums to say goodbye to the late Craig Breen was organized before the race.
The opening stage of the race was won by Sébastien Ogier / Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1), who broke a tyre and dropped out of the big game during the next stage. The same fate befell Kalle Rovanperä / Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1), the winners of Croatia Rally 2022, in this stage. The racing pairs of the Japanese car manufaturer finished the rally in the fifth and fourth place, respectively. In total, these two racing pairs won 13 out of the 20 stages held.
Thierry Neuville / Martijn Wydaeghe led the race from the second to the tenth stage, whose hopes of a very emotional victory were ended by a spin-out in the 11th stage. As a small consolation, the Belgians won the powerstage that ended the rally. For Neuville, it was the 20th win of the powerstage of his career.
Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm finished the season's first full asphalt rally on the third step of the podium. It was the first podium place for the Finns with the car of Hyundai Motorsport team, which wore the national colours of Ireland in honour of Craig Breen and had the now legendary words of the talented and always cheerful Irishman written on the edges of the roof: "Don't forget to enjoy yourself. You also have to have fun, life is too short" and "Never let anyone tear you down, because only you know your true potential." The Finns ended up behind the winners by 58.6 seconds.
Cyril Abiteboul, Hyundai Motorsport team principal: “This has been a difficult event for the entire rally community and we have to thank everyone for their extensive help and understanding. Looking at the sporting element of this weekend, we had to dive into it wholeheartedly from the start of the race. It was the will of Craig's family and what he would have wanted, that is very clear. Everything we have done this week has been for him and in his memory. The motivation of the team was very high despite the circumstances, especially that of Thierry. Our collective disappointment was immense when his winning streak came to an abrupt halt on Saturday. For us, it was important for Craig to have a car and team represented on the podium today. We knew it would mark a milestone in the difficult and emotional journey we've been on this past week. We were able to achieve this with Esapekka. It is important that we leave the sporting element aside now. The series of events that have happened since that tragic day last Thursday have been incredibly difficult for the team. We had to put our emotions on hold, but now is the time for reflection. It all comes back hard and it's important that we all find time to deal with it in our own way."
Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1) achieved a worthy second place on the podium. The Estonians, who took two stage victories, also fought for the first place, when several technical problems did not promise more this time. In the end 27 seconds separated them from the first place.
Ott Tänak via M-Sport press service: "The car has speed, the stage times show it, but this time gap seems very small and it has been difficult for me to understand where the car has so-called sweet spot. So far the team has worked very hard and I have managed to stay within striking distance of the competitors, but we have to keep working hard to be part of this exciting championship fight.”
Elfyn Evans / Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) finished as winners of WRC Croatia Rally 2023. The British won just one stage, but a steady and error-free drive brought victory after 18-month pause, which the British dedicated to the late Craig Breen. For Toyota, Croatia Rally was the 500th start of the WRC Series. It was the sixth career win for Evans and the fifth WRC round win for Martin.
Elfyn Evans at the finish of the last stage of Croatia Rally: “Thank you. This win doesn't seem so important, but we've worked hard for it. Today we miss our friend, as soon as we crossed the finish line here, he was on our mind. We promised his family that we would enjoy driving here and I'm sure they were watching us, but we are thinking of him.”
Ogier and Evans share the first place in the WRC standing. Rovanperä is one point behind and Tänak four points behind them. Among the manufacturers, Toyota Gazoo Racing continues to lead.
Yohan Rossel / Arnaud Dunand (Citroën C3 Rally2) took the second win of the season in WRC2 class. In the end the success of the French was 16.1 seconds in front of the nearest pursuers.
The first place in the Junior WRC class belonged to the Irishmen Eamonn Kelly / Conor Mohan (Ford Fiesta Rally3).
Georg Linnamäe / James Morgan (Hyundai i20 N Rally2), who stopped the race in WRC2 class on Friday, but were back on the track on Saturday and Sunday, finished the race in the 13th place.
"The rally was a good test, but we got new information about the car. The rally didn't go as we wanted, but it could have been worse," Linnamäe summed up the weekend in an interview for Delfi.
Romet Jürgenson, the winner of the FIA Rally Star European final, who made his WRC debut in Croatia in the front-wheel drive RC4 class, and his co-driver Siim Oja finished the race in an excellent second place. In the end they were behind the winners by 2.25,3.
"The roads were very difficult, we already understood that during the recce. Gravel and other nonsense that was brought on the road... predicting these places was a challenge in itself," Jürgenson described the circumstances of the first WRC round of his life in an interview for Delf. "Actually, we managed quite well. After the recce the feeling was worse than it actually was during the race."
The WRC season will continue in two weeks, when the races will be held on 11-14 May in Portugal.