Croatia Rally ready to create more magic WRC memories
After hosting one of the most epic deciding stages in the 50-year history of the FIA World Rally Championship last April, the Croatia Rally is back and all set to create another batch of high-speed sporting memories. An eagerly anticipated newcomer to the WRC in 2021, the Croatia Rally retains its third-round calendar slot as the first traditional asphalt event of the year. That means the new-generation, hybrid-powered Rally1 cars will be put through their paces on stages free of ice and snow following on from January’s Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Since the season-opening event, the WRC has visited the winter wonderland of Rally Sweden in late February where Kalle Rovanperä scored his third career win to move to the top of the provisional championship standings. Rovanperä arrived in Croatia last year aged 20 and with a four-point advantage over Thierry Neuville. However, that lead wasn’t to last after the Finn crashed out on the very first stage. Twelve months on, and having turned 21 in October, Rovanperä holds a 14-point lead ahead of his Belgian rival after the opening two rounds of the 13-event 2022 schedule.
Who are the drivers chasing Croatia Rally glory?
Sixty-six crews appear on the entry list including eight from Croatia with the headlining Rally1 category attracting 11 registrations. Among those are 2019 world champions Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja from the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team plus their team-mates Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe and Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson. Tänak and Neuviille are among five WRC event winners taking part in Croatia along with Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team trio Elfyn Evans, Esapekka Lappi and Kalle Rovanperä. Co-driven by Scott Martin, Evans has finished runner-up in the WRC for the last two seasons, but it’s been a luckless start to his 2022 bid so far. Lappi, who is co-driven by Janne Ferm, is a Croatia Rally rookie, while Rovanperä needs no introduction as the current world championship leader alongside co-driver Jonne Halttunen. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston complete the Toyota entry.
After scoring a Rallye Monte-Carlo podium, Craig Breen/Paul Nagle make their second start in Croatia albeit with Ford rather than Hyundai power, which was the case in 2021. Breen’s Ford Puma Rally1 already has winning pedigree after nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb drove an identical Puma to victory on Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson and Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria join Breen/Nagle at the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team. M-Sport-entered Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais make their first competitive appearance in a Rally1 car at WRC level.
The WRC2 category for Rally2 cars has a huge 29-car entry split across the Open, Junior and Masters divisions. Ten crews are entered in WRC3 for Rally3 cars with seven of those eligible for Junior WRC Championship points.
Croatians Niko Pulić and Ivica Siladić have secured WRC2 and WRC3 entries respectively. WRC2 newcomer Miko Marczyk from Poland has been helping to drive supplies to refugees entering his country from Ukraine, while Cristiana Oprea has travelled from Romania for what will be her WRC debut. Click HERE for the full entry list.
The route in short
The second Croatia Rally to count for the WRC is based out of Zagreb from April 21-24 and consists of 20 stages over a competitive distance of 291.84 kilometres.
Crews head to the hills of Samoborsko Gorje, Žumberak and Karlovac west and southwest of host city Zagreb for four stages each run twice either side of service in the capital on Friday April 22. Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci is up first from 08h33 local time, while the 20.77 kilometres of Stojdraga – Gornja Vas is packed full of corners.
Saturday’s route, again to the west of Zagreb and featuring four double-use stages, begins with Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh, the longest of the rally at 23.76 kilometres. The day also includes the new Platak test to the far southwest close to the Adriatic Sea.
It’s an early start on Sunday with Trakošćan – Vrbno, another untried stage – and the rally’s most northerly – getting underway at 07h18. The second pass of Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec forms the event-deciding Wolf Power Stage.
What’s new for 2022?
Platak and Trakošćan – Vrbno are new for 2022 and their inclusion is part of efforts by the rally organisers to widen the event’s geographic spread to give more fans the chance to follow the action, while also reducing traffic congestion on certain liaison sections. This has led to five rather than the three counties from 2021 hosting stages.
Both new stages are narrow in nature and feature several grip changes. Platak, which is based close to a ski resort in view of the Adriatic Sea, includes a Fan Zone at the mountain stage’s summit. Trakošćan – Vrbno, which includes undulating sections, will be familiar to some teams as it served as a test stage last season.
The 3.65-kilometre shakedown, scheduled for 09h01 on Thursday April 21, is also new for 2022. It’s situated near the ancient town of Okić, which has records dating back to 1193.
Damage from an earthquake means the finish ceremony, which is due to begin at 15h30 on Sunday April 24, has been moved from St Mark’s Square to the service park. The ceremonial start at 18h30 on Thursday will use an area in between the National and University Library and Zagreb Fountains.
Croatia’s thrilling Power Stage revisited
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia made history by winning the first Croatia Rally to count for the FIA World Rally Championship on April 25, 2021 – albeit by a scant 0.6 seconds. In a dramatic finish to the Wolf Power Stage, the Toyota duo beat their team-mates Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin with Hyundai-powered Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe just 8.1s behind the winners after three days of spectacular action on stunning countryside roads close to the Croatian capital Zagreb.
Despite nursing damage to the right side of their Yaris WRC following a road traffic accident on the liaison section heading to SS17, overnight leaders Ogier/Ingrassia remained in contention for victory starting the rally’s deciding test, which they began 3.9s behind Evans/Martin.
Although the French pair made a minor error, they went quickest through the run to lay down the gauntlet for Evans/Martin. The Britons appeared to have done just enough to take the victory until they slid wide on a right-hander within sight of the charge to the stage finish. Starved of vital traction as they mounted an earth bank, the seconds lost meant they completed the stage 4.5s slower than Ogier/Ingrassia to lose the rally by 0.6s.
DRIVER Q&A: THIERRY NEUVILLE
After finishing third in 2021, Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team driver Thierry Neuville is ready to return and chase another podium finish in Zagreb.
Click HERE for the full entry list. The top 15 crews according to their seeding appear below:
No Driver (NAT)/Co-driver (NAT) Car
69 Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
11 Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 N Rally1
44 Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Ford Puma Rally1
18 Takamoto Katsuta (JPN)/Aaron Johnston (IRL) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
42 Craig Breen (IRL)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Ford Puma Rally1
4 Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
2 Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Elliott Edmondson (GBR) Hyundai i20 N Rally1
8 Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Hyundai i20 N Rally1
33 Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
16 Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)/Alexandre Coria (FRA) Ford Puma Rally1
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA)/Vincent Landais (FRA) Ford Puma Rally1
20 Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA)/Andy Malfoy (FRA) Citroën C3 Rally2
21 Yohan Rossel (FRA)/Valentin Sarreaud (FRA) Citroën C3 Rally2
22 Eric Camilli (FRA)/Thibault de la Haye (FRA) Citroën C3 Rally2
23 Nikolay Gryazin (ANA)/Konstantin Aleksandrov (ANA) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo
24 Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Maciej Szczepaniak (POL) Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo
WRC Drivers (after 2 of 13 rounds)
1 Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) 46pts
2 Thierry Neuville (BEL) 32pts
3 Sébastien Loeb (FRA) 27pts*
4 Gus Greensmith (GBR) 20pts
5 Sebastien Ogier (FRA) 19pts*
6 Takamoto Katsuta (JPN) 18pts
*Not competing on Croatia Rally
WRC Co-drivers (after 2 of 12 rounds)
1 Jonne Halttunen (FIN) 46pts
2 Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) 32pts
3 Isabelle Galmiche (FRA) 27pts*
4 Jonas Andersson (SWE) 20pts
5 Benjamin Veillas (FRA) 19pts*
6 Aaron Johnston (IRL) 18pts
*Not competing on Croatia Rally
WRC Manufacturers (after 2 of 12 rounds)
1 Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 83pts
2 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 59pts
3 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 47pts
4 Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG 22pts
WRC2, WRC3 and Junior WRC standings available HERE.
Starts: 18h30, Thursday April 21, National and University Library and Zagreb Fountains
Finishes: 15h30, Sunday April 24, Zagreb Fair Service Park
Base: Zagreb Fair, Zagreb, Croatia
Eligibility: Round 3, 2021 FIA World Rally Championship (includes WRC2, WRC3 and JWRC)
Special stages: 20
Special stage distance: 291.84 kilometres
Liaison distance: 1350.34 kilometres
Total distance: 1642.18 kilometres
Event website (including news, itinerary, other documentation): https://rally-croatia.com/en/
More information: Marko Šivak, email@example.com