Puuppola, Finland,

Croatia Rally: Day 1


TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in close competition on Croatian roads    

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team driver Elfyn Evans is second overall after a closely-fought first day of the Croatia Rally, round four of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship season.

Before the rally got underway, tributes were paid to Craig Breen, who is sadly missed by the service park following the Irish driver’s sudden passing in the build-up to the event.

The opening day of the rally was the longest in terms of competitive distance, with 130.18 kilometres to be tackled across two loops of four stages just to the west of the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Championship leader Sébastien Ogier made a good start with the fastest time in the first stage, but would drop around a minute and a half from the lead after he had to stop and change a wheel and tyre in SS2. A similar misfortune befell team-mate Kalle Rovanperä after an impact in the same compression on the road.

Evans took up the lead of the team’s challenge by moving up into second place overall, and ended the morning loop just over 16 seconds behind leader Thierry Neuville (Hyundai). Strong pace in the afternoon, including a stage win in the final test, allowed Evans to reduce that gap to 5.7s by the end of the day.

With three more stage wins after his SS2 delay, Ogier climbed back up into fifth position overall. Rovanperä lost more time over the course of the morning, but made a step forward in feeling and performance in the afternoon, which he ended in eighth overall. Takamoto Katsuta, competing in Croatia with the support of the TGR WRC Challenge Program, is sixth tonight.

Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal) 
“It has been a challenging day on the stages with some mixed feelings for us. Watching the first stage this morning, everything was looking good, especially with Seb. Then both he and Kalle had to stop and change a wheel in exactly in the same place. They both said that they hit quite a nasty hole and I think the impacts were unfortunately just too heavy. We’re disappointed that they lost a lot of time, but it happens. Elfyn meanwhile got through the morning well and we could see him getting more confidence. He started to push hard this afternoon and was getting closer and closer to the lead, and hopefully he can keep fighting for the victory. Seb and Kalle just need to keep going and see what happens. There are still two days to go, and we know that on this rally, nothing is decided until the end of the final stage on Sunday.”

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69) 
“This morning was more difficult than I expected. The conditions were tricky with more loose gravel and less grip than anticipated. The setup we started with was not so good for me in these conditions, so I was struggling a bit with the balance. Then in the second stage we had the same thing happen as Seb: I had this compression in my pacenotes but it seems the bump was bigger than expected. This afternoon was definitely much better. In mid-day service we could make some changes to the setup and it was much easier to enjoy the driving and to be on the pace. Hopefully we can continue with a good feeling tomorrow.”

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33) 
“It’s not been easy out there today. The grip was changing almost with every corner and the amount of dirt brought onto the road from the cars in front of us was varying quite a lot. It maybe wasn’t the strongest start to the day, with a lot of pollution on the road with our road position in the first stage this morning. But after that we kept building and building. This afternoon we had some rain showers and it was a bit of a lottery, but we actually managed to make the right tyre calls at the right time. So it’s been a pretty positive day overall. There’s a long way to go, but it’s hopefully going to be an interesting fight for the rest of the weekend.”

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 17) 
“The pace was good this morning but unfortunately we lost a lot of time when we had to stop in SS2 and change the wheel. It happened in a compression on the road in a high-speed section, which is difficult to see in the recce at slower speeds. I was trying be safe and avoid the cut on the inside of the road, but the impact in this compression was too hard. After that, we just needed to keep pushing and try to catch back as many positions as we can. The gap in front now is pretty big so it will be tough to gain more, but we have nothing to lose so we need to keep trying and see what happens.”

End of day one (Friday):
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) 1h16m02.4s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +5.7s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +30.0s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +33.4s
5 Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +1m23.7s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +1m52.1s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +1m52.9s
8 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +2m40.3s
9 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroën C3 Rally2) +3m20.0s
10 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) +3m49.9s
(Results as of 18:30 on Friday, for the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)

What's next? 
Saturday’s route is shorter than Friday in terms of stage distance (116.6 km) but ventures much further south-west from Zagreb, towards the city of Rijeka on the Adriatic coast. Another loop of four tests is repeated either side of mid-day service and includes the only new stage for this year’s event: Ravna Gora – Skrad.


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