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WRC Preview: Croatia Rally

Written by Katie Gregory, Edited by Meghana Sree


Image Credit - WRC

For the fourth round of the 2024 season, the World Rally Championship will head to Croatia for 300 km of tight hairpin turns and high speed stretches of asphalt. The drivers will travel through five counties around Croatia, before making their way to the capital city of Zagreb.


The weekend will have 20 special stages, and there will be a total of eight Rally 1 drivers competing to conquer the terrain.  


This will be no easy feat, however – and the ground beneath the drivers will be their biggest challenge. The asphalt road surface may appear harmless, but it is known to be temperamental and extremely sensitive to changing weather conditions.


The road surface is especially tricky as it can vary from smooth to bumpy and broken in a matter of seconds. This means it will be a test of reaction times for our drivers, as they will have to adapt their driving style and speed immediately to avoid rough terrain.    


Toyota driver Kalle Rovanperä knows this all too well, having led the championship until he crashed out in the first stage of the inaugural Croatia Rally in 2021.


To his credit, Rovanperä did not make the same mistake twice and won the rally in 2022. Making the field slightly less competitive, Rovanperä will not be competing at Croatia this year as it is not part of his part-time campaign. 


Kalle Rovanperä after winning in 2022; Credit - Red Bull Content Pool

Despite not having their reigning World Champion, Toyota still looks as strong as ever for this upcoming rally, especially because since the event’s inauguration in 2021, Toyota have won it three years straight. Two of their past victors will return this weekend, with their lineup consisting of 2021 winner Sébastien Ogier and 2023 winner Elfyn Evans.


While both drivers know exactly what it takes to conquer this terrain, each is starting out the event in very different championship positions. Ogier is currently in seventh place and trailing all of his teammates, even Rovanperä on a part-time program.


The Frenchman will be looking to ease the gap between himself and his teammates, and a win would be the perfect way to do that. On the other hand, Evans is sitting in second place in the championship and will be hoping to snatch the coveted spot away from Thierry Neuville. 


Completing Toyota’s lineup is Takamoto Katsuta, who has never finished outside the top six here since the event’s creation. The driver will certainly be looking for more this year, and will want to grab as many points as he can to boost his championship position up from sixth place.


With three hungry drivers, Toyota looks to be in the perfect position to extend their lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship and keep their clean sheet of victories in Croatia. 


Looking to disrupt that run of victories will be the championship leader himself – Neuville. The Hyundai driver is currently six points clear of Evans, and will not want to risk that gap easing at all. However, it is highly likely that his main opponent this weekend won’t be a rival driver and will instead be his own machine.


The two were at odds in Kenya, as a technical fault cost Neuville his second place position and relegated him down to fifth. If Neuville is yet again plagued with reliability issues this weekend, this would make it almost too easy for Evans to be the new championship leader. 


Elfyn Evans dedicated his 2023 win to the late Craig Breen; Credit - Rally Croatia

Despite every driver having different motivations for winning this weekend, there is one that all will share. This rally will mark the first anniversary since the death of Irish rally driver Craig Breen, who passed away after a tragic crash in a pre-event of Croatia 2023.


Breen was a much loved member of the series, and competed in it since 2009. Having had such a profound impact on all of his peers, each will be looking to honour him in their own way. As we think of Breen this weekend, his legacy should serve as a sobering reminder of the true risk each driver takes and the bravery they must assume to do so.


Hyundai was the team Breen represented in 2023, and all three of their Rally1 cars will incorporate the Irish flag into their roof and bumper design. Ahead of the rally weekend, Hyundai also held an auction - with all proceeds going to the Craig Breen foundation. 


Rally Croatia will begin with shakedown and a ceremonial start on Thursday, with the action starting on Friday with the longest day of the weekend. Four stages will take the drivers south-west from Zagreb outwards towards the coast.


After a lunchtime regroup and some tyre-fitting, the same four stages will be completed in reverse order as the drivers head back to Zagreb. Saturday will see the drivers loop four stages to West and South of Zagreb while Sunday’s finale will take place to the North of Zagreb. The drivers will finally battle it out in the rally-ending power stage, held in Zagorska Sela and Kumrovec.


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