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Tue 18 Apr 2023

The Croatia Rally weather gamble

Talked of as the first pure asphalt encounter of the FIA World Rally Championship season, this week's Croatia Rally (20 - 23 April) is one of the most weather-dependent events of the year.

Just as Rallye Monte-Carlo can be turned on its head by a sudden snowfall in the French Alps, so can Zagreb be flipped on the turn of a cloud - just look at last year. Remember Ott Tänak's inspired choice of wet weather Pirellis for the final day? Was the rain coming? Maybe? Definitely.

The penultimate stage was a washout, allowing the Estonian to turn a half-minute deficit into the lead. Admittedly, he missed the win because of the combination of quick-drying roads and a hard-charging Kalle Rovanperä.

But talk to Rovanperä about the conditions in Croatia, and there remains a slightly quizzical look. Be ready for the unexpected - first down the road in 2021, he found that super-slippery section at the end of the opening stage and dropped his Yaris WRC down a bank.

Next up, Sébastien Ogier came within a cat's whisker of doing the same thing. The rest of the stage had offered good grip, but that one section was Teflon slick.

If the rain does arrive, expect the road and the grip level to change with every passing car as cuts get deeper, and the asphalt gets dirtier.

In that case, championship leader Ogier should be best placed - but the Frenchman's seen it all before and, like his colleagues, will be taking nothing for granted.

It might not have the snow and the ice of Monte-Carlo, but Croatia can be just as much of a gamble this week.