Sun 21 Apr 2024

Ogier snatches Croatia Rally victory on extraordinary Sunday

Sébastien Ogier jumped from third to first overall on a dramatic Sunday at Croatia Rally, claiming a surprise win as Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans faced heartbreak.

After three days of neck and neck competition on spectator-packed asphalt roads around capital city Zagreb, victory looked set to be decided between Neuville, driving a Hyundai i20 N, and Welshman Evans in a Toyota GR Yaris. However, as they headed into the second stage of this final day separated by just 2.6sec, the tables suddenly turned.

A late pace note meant overnight leader Neuville arrived too fast into a left-hander and slid wide before riding up a bank and into a tree. The impact destroyed his Hyundai’s rear aerodynamics package but, more importantly, cost him almost 25sec.

Unaware of his rival’s problem, Evans misjudged a tightening right-hand bend in the very same stage and spun, dropping 20sec as he tried to get his car pointing in the right direction. It meant that Ogier, who had occupied third place since the opening stage on Friday morning, suddenly gained a 9.1sec lead with two stages remaining.

Unlike his peers, Ogier made no such errors and kept Toyota team-mate Evans at bay – celebrating his second Croatia Rally triumph by 9.7sec along with a milestone 100th WRC podium.

"It's been a tough weekend,” admitted Ogier, who was co-driven by Vincent Landais. “We knew coming here that our start position would be an issue, but we never gave up and kept the pressure on for the whole weekend. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many moments in one rally, but it's nice to get the win for the team.”

Toyota’s 1-2 result extended the Japanese marque's lead in the manufacturers’ championship to seven points over Hyundai. But all was not lost for Neuville, who nursed his battered car to the end 36.1sec behind Evans in third.

The 18 points Neuville earned by leading on Saturday evening helped to retain his drivers’ series lead, and he heads Evans by six points after round four of 13.

“It is what it is,” Neuville reflected. “We had a great few days, but unfortunately today didn't go so well. At the end we're taking important points so it's not so bad. We would have liked to push harder in the Power Stage but these cars without a rear wing are undriveable.”

Ott Tänak had a high-speed scare in SS18 when his Hyundai mounted a grass embankment, but the Estonian recovered quickly to secure a fourth-place finish. He initially faced pressure from M-Sport Ford hotshot Adrien Fourmaux before the Frenchman plummeted down the order after damaging his Puma’s steering, hitting an anti-cut marker on the same test that caught out Neuville and Evans.

Takamoto Katsuta claimed the maximum seven points available for being the fastest driver across Super Sunday, climbing to fifth in his Toyota after Fourmaux’s troubles. Andreas Mikkelsen and Grégoire Munster were sixth and seventh, while Rally2 runners Nikolay Gryazin, Yohan Rossel and Sami Pajari completed the top 10.

WRC hits the gravel next month for Vodafone Rally de Portugal. Round five of the season is based in Matosinhos and takes place from 9 – 12 May.

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