Elfyn Evans secured victory in the Croatia Rally after a day in which most crews focused on bringing their cars home. Ott Tanak finished in second, 27s behind after taking no risks after the issues he suffered on Saturday. Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi brought home his Hyundai in third 58.6s back.
The finale of the rally consists of four stages north of Zagreb. Trakoscan – Vrbno takes in a 13th-century lakeside castle and is then followed by Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec. The two stages are then repeated with the latter being used as the Wolf Power Stage.
The opening stage went well for Evans as the Welshman extended his lead over Tanak to 30s after setting the third-fastest time. Whilst Evans was confident, he set a good time in relation to the stage winner, Kalle Rovanpera, it was still enough to extend the gap.
It was a gap that would be pegged back slightly by Tanak as the M-Sport Ford driver finished 1.3s ahead of the Toyota. The field however were battling for confidence on the test with drivers coming away with the feeling that there was time still on the table. The second pass of Trakoscan – Vrbno saw Tanak make a very small dent in Evans’s lead once again but on completion of the stage Tanak said his main focus was bringing the car home in second.
“I am thinking about taking the car home, nothing else,” said Tanak. “It’s challenging so let’s see. I was fooled with the start of this one – the clock froze.”
Tanak stuck to his word as Elfyn Evans grabbed his first win of the season and his first since Finland in 2021. However, Evans was more reflective on the loss of Craig Breen rather than the final result.
“It feels so insignificant now again really, that’s the bottom line,” said Evans. “We’ve been working towards this for a long time but it’s surprising how little it means just at the moment. We’re back to missing our friend after the real focus of the weekend and straight away after crossing the finish line that’s all we think about.”
Upon claiming second place, Tanak was still ruing the performance and consistency of his car: “Result-wise, it’s a lot for sure. For sure we are missing a lot of consistency and also performance as well. We got some good points and hopefully, the speed will follow.”
Behind the leading two, Lappi was comfortably running in third as the Hyundai driver geared up for the Wolf Power Stage. The Finn had just been making sure to not take any risks and close out the rally in a good position which he well and truly did to grab a podium for Hyundai after a tough couple of weeks.
“I don’t know where to start to be honest,” said Lappi at the end of the stage. “I am sure it was not easy to come here for most of us. It’s been really tough, but we kept our heads together and with a smart drive we managed to be on the podium which is very important for me and the team.”
Behind Lappi, Rovanpera and Ogier had been going blow for blow over the first three stages of the day. The reigning champion started by finishing SS17 3.7s ahead of Ogier and jumping into fourth place. A further 5.4s gain in SS18 gave Rovanpera a 6.2s second gap to the Frenchman with SS19 only providing a further 0.1s addition.
Rovanpera went on to claim fourth after distancing himself further from Ogier with a final gap of 9.3s. Ogier’s team-mate Takamoto Katsuta finished sixth and Pierre-Louis Loubet claimed seventh and was the final Rally1 car in the top ten.
Thierry Neuville took full Wolf Power Stage points from Kalle Rovanpera by 0.9s. Ogier followed in third.
In WRC2, Yohan Rossel secured victory over Nikolay Gryazin and Emil Lindholm. Oliver Solberg finished third in the category but is not scoring points in this round.
- Evans 2hr 50min 54.3s
- Tanak +27s
- Lappi +58.6s
- Rovanpera +1 min 18.3s
- Ogier +1min 28s
- Katsuta +2min 22.5s
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