The world champion snatched victory in the third round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 0.6sec – the third closest margin in the series’ 49-year history – after a jaw-dropping final day that was pure theatre.
Ogier’s mind was understandably elsewhere after the early morning collision with a car en route to the opening stage, which left his Toyota Yaris with significant damage to co-driver Julien Ingrassia’s side.
He conceded the lead to team-mate Elfyn Evans and came under pressure from third-placed Thierry Neuville. But Ogier turned everything round in the final Wolf Power Stage to grab his 51st career win with a storming drive combined with an Evans’ error.
Video: Croatia Rally - Wolf Power Stage highlights
“It’s been a crazy hell of a ride,” Ogier told wrc.com at the finish. “I thought in the moment my rally was over because of the impact. My back is still hurting honestly, and luckily the car was not too badly damaged,”
“I was still able to carry on and at the end I was not in optimum condition for the morning but still managed to catch the victory in the last stage. This one, I did not believe in it any more at the end, but we can enjoy it for sure.
“I think the car was driving straight so I think the main damage was aerodynamic and probably psychological a little bit for me. But most important, I want to say that everyone is safe and unhurt from this road incident. That was my main concern when it happened.”
Ogier’s victory propelled him back into the championship lead. He will carry an eight-point advantage over Neuville into the first of four consecutive gravel rounds at Vodafone Rally de Portugal (20 - 23 May).
He was fined €5000 for leaving the scene of the accident and handed a one rally suspended ban, which will be enforced if he commits a similar offence in the next six months. He was also fined €2000 for ignoring a red traffic light shortly after the accident.
Ogier acknowledged he was fortunate the collision did not cause more damage.
“Luckily the impact was straight on, maybe one of the strongest points of the car,” he said. “It damaged a bit the cosmetic but behind it, the wheel was straight and the roll cage was untouched and even the door, the foam protection, was in it so the safety was still there.”
The Frenchman initially took the lead on Saturday morning after a poor tyre choice cost Neuville dear. While he sympathised with Evans after the Welshman’s last-gasp disappointment, he felt his performance merited the win.
“Of course, in the moment I feel for Elfyn because he has done a good job this weekend but I think we didn’t stole either this victory. We have been pretty strong the whole weekend,” he added.
“Some issues have slowed us down at some points but the global level performance was good so I think we can be happy with that. And the most important is it’s a one-two for the team this weekend and, at this stage in the season that’s very important.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing now leads Hyundai Motorsport in the manufacturers’ standings by 27 points.