John Floyd
Motorsport columnist
9 minute read
25 Apr 2022
4:10 pm

Last day gamble pays off for Rovanpera and Toyota in Croatia

John Floyd

Young Finn's last stage gamble earned him a second straight victory after clinching top honours last time out in Sweden.

Not cracking underneath the pressure, Rovanpera scored back to back victories. Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing.

After just two years on the World Rally Championship calendar, the Rally Croatia has provided two of the closest finishes in the history of the world series and is an event capable of upsetting the predictions on a daily basis.

Friday morning, the first day of the rally and the teams faced appalling weather conditions heavy rain, thick fog and very muddy and slippery road surfaces, first on the road was current championship leader Kalle Rovanpera.

2022 World Rally Championship Croatia results
Leading going into the final stage, former champions Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja had to eventually settle for second place. Image: Hyundai Motorsport

The young Finn appeared to have an advantage despite “sweeping” the road, which normally compromises the car’s grip level, costing valuable tenths of seconds.

This time, being first on the road, gave Rovanpera an advantage, the roads were wet but relatively free of mud allowing him to cut the corners unlike those behind who met a very slippery surface as the mud was dragged onto the fastest line.

In hot pursuit was Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, who lost 4.1 seconds over 19.2 km behind the Finn commented it was a “horrible stage! I immediately went into a ditch after three corners because the grip was low. I had a lot of vibrating from the wheel with the mud stuck inside.”

The Belgian chased hard but a broken alternator belt after SS4 meant the crew had to push the car for 800 metres to reach the time control exhausted and four minutes late incurring a 40-second penalty.

ALSO READ: Croatia readying itself for WRC’s return to action

An aggressive drive following the mid-day service saw the team regain the second position, 19.3 seconds ahead of teammate Ott Tänak, who was hampered by his low starting position and a puncture on the penultimate stage.

It was not a great start for Toyota teammates Esapekka Lappi and Elfyn Evans. Lappi, cutting a right-hand bend, clipped a rock and destroyed the right front corner of the Yaris, ending his day. Evans’ run of bad luck continued as he suffered two early punctures dropping him down the leader board, he fought back to win SS3.

2022 World Rally Championship Croatia results
Punctures proved to be undoing of Ford’s Gus Greensmith and Jonas Andersson.

A disappointing first day for M-Sport Ford too, as first Adrien Fourmaux went out after sliding his Puma through a hedge into someone’s garden, then both Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith were forced to retire when three punctures each left them with no more useable tyres onboard. Some good news for the team was Craig Breen’s fourth spot overnight.

Rovanpera won six of the day’s eight special stages to end the day 1 minute 4 seconds ahead of Neuville. Evans and Neuville taking one stage each.

An improvement in the weather conditions, but wet road sections lay in wait for the unwary causing problems for many drivers.

With nearly 90 seconds lead, overnight leader Rovanpera appeared to have an impregnable lead over second-place Tänak, but the Estonian chipped away to reduce the deficit but the Platak ski resort stage was to change the complexion of the leader board.

2022 World Rally Championship Croatia results
Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe took the final step on the podium. Image: Hyundai Motorsport.

Run in heavy rain and thick fog, the leading pair selected full wet weather tyres, but the Gazoo Racing Yaris crew suffered an early puncture in the stage and lost 55 seconds. Tänak continued to reduce the Rovanperä’s lead during the afternoon session.

Hyundai’s young gun Oliver Solberg crashed out of fifth position in the opening stage of the morning, the stage was cancelled as rescue vehicles attended a fire at the rear of the car.

Team mate Neuville was hard on the heels of M-Sport Ford’s Breen after receiving another penalty, this time a one-minute penalty for speeding on Friday, relegating him from second to fourth. Then his i20 N had to be pushed into service this morning and received a 10sec penalty for leaving a minute late.

Despite this the Belgian finished the day just 4.9 seconds behind Breen, after the Irishman had overshot a hairpin in his Puma and with a comfortable margin of almost 50 seconds over Evans in fifth.

2022 World Rally Championship Croatia results
Difficult event brought fifth for Toyota’s Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin. Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

The final day and the Yaris of Rovanpera held a comfortable 19.9 second lead over Tänak with just four stages to run, but once again the climatic conditions entered the equation.

 A storm drenched the penultimate stage of the day and Tanak’s gamble to run the softer Pirelli tyres wiped out Rovanperä’s lead to give the Estonian a 1.4 second advantage as they headed to the Wolf Power Stage, the final test of the rally.

The roads began to dry but the odds remained firmly in Tänak’s favour as mud and dirt littered the final 14.09 km. An inspired drive by Rovanpera overturned the deficit to claim back-to-back FIA World Rally Championship wins by 4.3 sec, extending his championship lead.

Next, the WRC circus heads to Portugal for the Vodafone Rally de Portugal (May 19-22) is the first gravel event of the year. Based in Matosinhos near Porto in the north of the country, it features classic stages on sandy and rocky roads.

2022 World Rally Championship Croatia results
Craig Breen and co-driver Paul Nagle’s fourth position the only event highlight for M-Sport Ford. Image: M-Sport Ford

CHAMPIONSHIP TABLES

Final Positions

1.           K.Rovanperä/J.Halttunen            Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

2.           O.Tanak/M.Jarveoja      Hyundai i20 N Rally1

3.           T.Neuville/M.Wydaeghe        Hyundai i20 N Rally1

4.           C.Breen/P.Nagle                    Ford Puma Rally1

5.           E. Evans/S. Martin                   Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

6.           T.Katsuta/A.Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

7.           Y. Rossel/ V.Sarreaud               Citroën C3 Rally2

8.           K. Kajetanowicz/ M.Szczepaniak  Škoda Fabia Evo

9.           E. Lindholm/  R.Hämäläinen             Škoda Fabia Evo

10.         N. Gryazin/ K. Aleksandrov               Škoda Fabia Evo

15.         G. Greensmith/J.Andersson          Ford Puma Rally1

48.         P.Loubet/V.Landais             Ford Puma Rally1

51.         E.Lappi/J.Ferm                    Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

FIA World Rally Championship Drivers (after round 2 of 13)

1.           K.Rovanpera              76                   

2.           T.Neuville                  47                   

3.           C.Breen                     30                   

4.           S.Loeb                       27

5.           O.Tänak                      27                   

6.           T.Katsuta                   26                   

7.           G.Greensmith           20       

8.           S.Ogier                      19

9.           E.Evans                     17

10.         E.Lappi                      15

11.         A. Mikkelsen (R2)    12

12.         O.Solberg                   8

FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers (after round 2 of 13)

1.           Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT           126    

2.           Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT             84                

3.           M-Sport Ford WRT                         80

4.           Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG      30