The Ulsterman, driving an M-Sport Poland Ford Fiesta Rally4, chased early leader Martin Koci for the majority of the opening two days. When Koci struck trouble on Saturday afternoon, he saw his chance and took it, managing the lead to win with a 33.5sec advantage.
The scenes at Sunday’s podium were a stark contrast to those in Sweden just over 12 months ago, when Armstrong’s 2020 title campaign came to an abrupt end after a high-speed crash.
“After the crash in Sweden, I remember just thinking it was not a nice experience and a pretty scary crash. I thought that was probably it and I couldn’t see how I could come back and rally at this level in the WRC again or get my confidence up,” explained Armstrong.
“It was actually more my girlfriend than anything - she knew that rallying makes me super-happy and persuaded me to give it another go and see what I could do.
“I think we all had some time during lockdown to focus on things. That’s when I really started working on trying to get back into it and I’ve been working flat out with my employers at Codemasters ever since to get the budget together.”
With the confidence back, Armstrong and co-driver Phil Hall kicked off the final day in Croatia with a 22.5sec lead over Finnish youngster Lauri Joona.
The gap seemed hefty enough at the time, however, the slippery asphalt roads threw up a number of challenges including a slow puncture during the Wolf Power Stage which almost deflated the pair’s victory hopes.
“I was being really careful with the cuts and trying to take it easy, but we actually did get a slow puncture on the last stage. It didn’t hamper us too much in terms of speed, but the air was definitely flying out of it at the finish,” laughed the 26-year-old.
“I think you have to have a spot of luck and last weekend in Croatia the luck was on our side. There’s plenty of days where all of the drivers - including myself - haven’t had the luck. It’s just part and parcel of the sport and you have to take it when you get it.
“To take the win was absolutely amazing. I knew I was capable of doing it, I just had to try and work hard and finally we achieved it,” he added.
With the championship lead in his hands, Armstrong will look to double his winning streak when the series switches to gravel at next month’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal (20 - 23 May).