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Fri 22 Apr 2022

Rovanperä dominates wet and wild Friday morning

Kalle Rovanperä shrugged aside his lack of experience to lead a fiendishly difficult and dramatic Croatia Rally on Friday morning.

The 21-year-old missed his chance to learn the roads 12 months ago when he crashed out of the country’s FIA World Rally Championship debut after a handful of kilometres.

It didn’t hinder Rovanperä who won three of the opening four rain-soaked speed tests in a Toyota GR Yaris to lead Thierry Neuville by 12.5sec at the midpoint of the opening day.

First in the start order benefited the championship leader as conditions worsened with each car due to mud dragged onto road from the verges, but the Finn was unperturbed by the slippery special stages.

In worse trouble was Esapekka Lappi who retired his GR Yaris in the first stage after clipping a boulder and wrecking the front right corner. Adrien Fourmaux was also out after sliding his Puma through a hedge into a roadside garden. The car was too damaged to continue.

Another retirement was Pierre-Louis Loubet. His Puma debut proved short-lived when three punctures in two stages meant he did not have enough tyres onboard to complete the loop.

WRC2 leader Yohan Rossel was ninth with Chris Ingram, second in the category, completing the leaderboard.

• Full coverage from the Croatia Rally will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park

Fourmaux goes gardening on SS3

Despite overshooting a corner in SS2 and narrowly missing a water hydrant, Craig Breen was only 1.9sec adrift of Tänak on his first time aboard a Ford Puma in the wet.

Team-mate Gus Greensmith survived an opening stage trip up a bank which damaged his car’s front aero package to hold fifth, more than half a minute further back. Oliver Solberg was sixth in another i20 N despite spinning in the opening stage.

The GR Yaris cars of Takamoto Katsuta and Evans were seventh and eighth. Evans was already more than two minutes behind Rovanperä after puncturing his front left tyre in both the opening and closing stages of the loop.

“I think I was quite comfortable in the car in these tricky conditions,” he said. “Our starting position has been good but we have been quite a bit faster than the guys behind us, so maybe it’s not just the starting position that is helping us.”

His Toyota Gazoo Racing team completed a clean sweep of stage wins. Team-mate Elfyn Evans’ only ray of light in a troubled morning was fastest time in the third test, where he defeated Rovanperä by 2.6ec.

Neuville described the conditions as ‘horrible’ but the Hyundai i20 N driver was second fastest on three stages. “I immediately went into the ditch after three corners in the first stage because the grip was so low,” he lamented.

The leading duo distanced the rest. Ott Tänak was next up but the Estonian was already 47.3sec off the lead and feeling the set-up of his i20 N was too stiff for the slippery roads.

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