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Fri 19 Apr 2024

WRC heavyweights Neuville and Evans deadlocked in Croatia on Friday

The battle is well and truly raging at Croatia Rally after FIA World Rally Championship frontrunners Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans ended day one level on times.

There was nothing to separate the two drivers after eight treacherous stages totalling 120km in the hills west of the capital city Zagreb. However, Neuville, who entered this fourth round of the season with a six-point lead over Welshman Evans, was left to rue missed opportunities.

Neuville won four of the day’s first five asphalt speed tests, building a 10.1sec advantage. However, the Belgian driver's efforts were thwarted when his Hyundai i20 N struck a rock in SS6 and sustained front right tyre damage costing around 10sec.

Toyota GR Yaris driver Evans seized the lead by winning the following stage from Jaškovo to Mali Modruš Potok. Nonetheless, a late resurgence from Neuville in the finale saw both drivers finish the day on equal footing, with Sébastien Ogier completing the podium just 6.6sec behind.

"We are really disappointed [about the damaged tyre] because it’s something that couldn’t have been avoided," Neuville admitted. "I did what I could, but it was not a great day for us."

Muddy conditions, and even flurries of snow, led to changeable grip levels with Ogier, running sixth on the road, one of the worst-hit by dirt being dragged onto the road.

Despite encountering a slow puncture in SS1 and being caught in a localised rain shower in SS5, the Frenchman's strong performance in SS8 propelled him back into contention.

Anticipating wet weather on Saturday, Ogier remarked: "Tomorrow is the start of another rally, I think – much slower and much slippier."

Ott Tänak ended 41.1sec adrift of the lead in fourth overall. After noting that his Hyundai felt "nervous" in the morning, the Estonian enjoyed a more consistent afternoon and edged out Adrien Fourmaux’s M-Sport Ford Puma by 11.6sec.

Toyota hotshot Takamoto Katsuta claimed sixth place ahead of Hyundai's Andreas Mikkelsen, who lost time in the morning after overshooting a junction. Grégoire Munster was eighth while WRC2 frontrunners Nikolay Gryazin and Yohan Rossel completed the leaderboard.

Saturday's second leg follows a similar format. Four stages are driven morning and afternoon, covering 108.76km in total.

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