Elfyn Evans topped Thursday’s Croatia Rally shakedown in his Toyota Yaris, narrowly ahead of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and championship leader Kalle Rovanperä.
The Welshman, driving his first pure asphalt rally for Toyota Gazoo Racing, stopped the clocks 0.7s up on Neuville through the dry and sunny 4.60km Medvedgrad test. Rovanperä was 1.3s down on his team-mate.
This third round marks Croatia’s FIA World Rally Championship debut. Like all the frontline drivers, shakedown marked the first opportunity for Evans to sample the sealed-surface roads in a competitive situation.
“It’s quite difficult to go back and forth [from service] so that limits what you can do remotely, but we tried some different map settings and just confirmed the work we did at the test really,” Evans said.
Car set-up has been a major pre-event talking point with the stages blending narrow and twisty lanes on worn asphalt with fast open roads on a smooth surface.
“I think there are certain sections of the rally where you would like to have something like a racing car, very free and very hard set-up,” added Evans.
“But then of course there are sections in which you almost need a gravel car to be honest because it’s so dirty. Set-up is definitely a compromise and you need a car that is quite progressive and allows you to feel the grip.”
Rovanperä was first to tackle shakedown and was quickest in the first run. Evans moved top of the timesheets in the second pass and posted the benchmark time in his third and final run.
Ott Tänak was fourth in his i20, 1.5s adrift of Evans, with world champion Sébastien Ogier another second back in fifth. Takamoto Katsuta made it four Yaris cars in the top six with a time 3.8s off Evans’ time.
Adrien Fourmaux made an impressive start to his World Rally Car by posting seventh fastest in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta, half a second clear of team-mate Gus Greensmith.