Wed 17 Apr 2024

Preview: Croatia Rally

Points leader Thierry Neuville is in need of a change of fortunes if he is to stay ahead of Toyota Gazoo Racing rival Elfyn Evans at Croatia Rally this week (18 – 21 April), round four of the 2024 FIA World Rally Championship.

Neuville, who drives an i20 N Rally1 car for Hyundai Motorsport, opened his season in fine fashion by winning Rallye Monte-Carlo, but issues in Sweden and Kenya have prevented the Belgian from recording a podium finish since.

He arrives in the capital city Zagreb eager to reverse his fortunes and secure a much-needed win to maintain his six-point lead over Welshman Evans, who triumphed here last year.

“Croatia is one of the most demanding Tarmac rallies I have ever competed in,” he said. “There are lots of blind corners, crests and jumps – something very unusual for a Tarmac event.

“Finishing in the top three is crucial to maintaining the championship lead, [but] our biggest target is to push for a top-step finish.”

Attended by over 300,000 spectators in 2022 and 2023, Croatia Rally presents a unique mix of surfaces ranging from smooth asphalt to badly broken concrete.

Fluctuating grip levels on the undulating roads pose a challenge and, despite the overall high speeds, narrow passages and numerous blind crests and turns demand a cautious approach from competitors. Weather adds another layer of complexity to the already demanding conditions as, if it rains, the surface becomes muddier and slipperier with each car that passes.

It’s a rally that has previously suited Toyota well, with Japanese machinery topping the podium in every edition since 2021. Eight-time world champion and past winner Sébastien Ogier joins Evans in the GR Yaris line-up, as does Takamoto Katsuta.

Hyundai fields three cars for Neuville, Ott Tänak and Andreas Mikkelsen while M-Sport has entered a pair of Puma Rally1s for Adrien Fourmaux, currently third in the points, and Grégoire Munster.

Just three years ago, Fourmaux raised eyebrows when he took a Fiesta World Rally car to fifth overall on his top-flight debut in Croatia. This time he starts the rally fresh from back-to-back podiums in Sweden and Kenya, eager to net his maiden victory.

The rally starts in Zagreb on Thursday (18 April). Ahead lie 20 stages totalling 283.28km before Sunday afternoon’s finish.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM