Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Ishani Aziz
Over a month after the last event, the WRC makes its comeback with the first proper tarmac rally of the year, in Croatia. A new addition to the calendar, partly thanks to the complications created by the pandemic, Croatia made its first appearance in 2021. It was a hectic debut, including championship leader Kalle Rovanperä crashing out on the first stage and a thrilling final day, where Sebastien Ogier snatched victory despite colliding with another car on the road section.
The 2022 edition of the rally was equally chaotic, in part thanks to the interference of rain throughout the duration of the event. Rovanperä looked to have victory sealed but a puncture on Saturday allowed Ott Tänak to close right up. The pair scrapped all the way to the final stage, until eventually last year’s world champion reigned supreme. Thierry Neuville also escaped a big shunt in the power stage to keep his podium place.
There may be only eight Rally1 cars starting in Croatia, but most of those are expecting to fight for victory. Chief among them is the returning Sebastien Ogier. The Frenchman has already won both rallies he started (Monte Carlo and Mexico), which has left him at the top of the standings despite him doing a part-time program. Kalle Rovanperä, the other previous winner here, is also a favourite for top honours this weekend, something that, should happen, would offer a boost not only in the points table, but also in the Finn’s slightly derailed confidence, having finished off the podium in the last two rallies.
By contrast, Elfyn Evans returned to the podium after months of absence, proving to everyone-himself included- he still has the pace to match his rivals. Another good result here would further cement that statement. Thierry Nueville managed to split the two Toyotas in Mexico, but he needs to keep mistakes to a minimum if he’s to top all of them here and live up to his reputation as a tarmac expert. Finally, there’s Ott Tänak. He had a frustrating rally last time out and judging by his results in Monte Carlo, the closest reference point for now when it comes to asphalt performance, he shouldn’t get his hopes too high. Then again, it’s been a while since then, so let’s wait and see.
The remaining three top class drivers are Takamoto Katsuta, Esapekka Lappi and Pierre-Louis Loubet. All of them have suffered accidents so far, while they’re yet to prove their flashes of speed are more than just that. With Croatia being one of the more weather dependent rallies on the calendar, this might just be their opportunity to shine.
The WRC2 field is also one to watch this weekend, with Oliver Solberg, Yohan Rossel, Gus Greensmith, Adrien Fourmaux and some other heavy hitters fighting for top honours and possibly the championship lead on the Croatian tarmac.
Of course, the whole event will have a very sombre atmosphere after the tragic passing of Hyundai driver Craig Breen during last week’s testing for the rally. To honour the super talented and passionate person that Craig was, Toyota have decided to nominate just two of their four cars to score manufacturers points, while the Korean outfit will run a special livery, incorporating the colours of the Irish flag, a nation that the late Breen often made proud.