Ogier's Croatia Victory from Evans & Neuville

Rally Croatia's debut as a round of the World Rally Championship ended in a nail-biting finish between Toyota teammates Sebastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans, together with the Hyundai of Thierry Neuville, concluding in favour of Ogier by just 0.6 seconds after three days of action.

As a result, Ogier now reclaims the championship lead that he held following Rally Monte Carlo, with Neuville holding second in the points following his third successive podium finish. An early Sunday start saw Evans taking the initiative, as he felt Saturday's stages had required him to be brave and decisive. As a result, the Welshman claimed a stage win from Neuville to start the final day, closing the gap to leader Ogier from 6.9 seconds overnight to 4.3s.

Ogier had meanwhile hit trouble when a road traffic accident on the way to the opening stage knocked away some of the sensitive aerodynamic integrity of his Yaris WRC. On the following stage, Evans won again from Neuville with Ogier dropping 8.4s and handing the overall lead to the Welshman. On their second pass through the opening stage of the day, Neuville went fastest by 0.4s from an in-control Evans, with Ogier a further 1.5s behind.

The top three crews were then separated by 8s, with Hyundai's Ott Tanak holding fourth place more than a minute behind and taking things gently to preserve his tyres for the points-scoring powerstage. Running in reverse order, Tanak was the first to make a bid for the five bonus points but he struggled with the dirt thrown onto the stage by the early runners and fell short of the provisional fastest time set his teammate Craig Breen.

With 8s to find, Neuville threw his i20 WRC through the stage but, the Belgian hit a patch of dirt on the approach to the last major junction and lost more than 2s. Ogier ran next and delivered a memorable save when his Yaris bottomed-out on a flat-out stretch and almost pitched him into a house but he recovered to go provisionally fastest by 3s.

This left Evans with a reasonable target, but a slow opening sector reduced his advantage to less than a second. That time was recovered in the next sector, where Ogier almost came to grief, but then the Welshman was caught out in the final right-left complex, ploughing over a village green before regaining the road and crossing the line having fallen short by just 0.6s.

The result stands as the third closest finish in WRC history, replacing Evans and Neuville's 0.7s gap at the end of the 2017 Rally Argentina. Only the 2007 Rally New Zealand (0.3s) and the 2011 Jordan Rally (0.2s) are closer in the history books.

Ogier said: "I was thinking it would not be enough. It looks like it really went close up to the last metres, maybe a last mistake from Elfyn hand us the win but I think over the weekend the whole team have done an amazing job. Of course the emotion for us now is super strong it's like it was a crazy rollercoaster for us this weekend between the puncture (on Friday) the issue this morning obviously and I was glad to still be in the race honestly and now just to catch this, like this, I guess that's why we do this sport for the emotion."

Ott Tanak was an uncharacteristically low-key fourth for Hyundai and Adrien Fourmaux fifth for M-Sport, just in front of Takamoto Katsuta's Toyota sixth, Gus Greensmith's WRC Fiesta seventh and Craig Breen's Hyundai eighth.

Rally Croatia was the third WRC round out of 12 and the championship continues with its first gravel round of 2021, Rally Portugal, starting on 20 May.

2021 Drivers Championship

1. Sebastien Ogier 61
2. Thierry Neuville 53
3. Elfyn Evans 51
4. Ott Tanak 40
5. Kalle Rovanpera 39
6. Craig Breen 24
7. Takamoto Katsuta 24
8. Adrien Fourmaux 12
9. Gus Greensmith 12
10. Dani Sordo 11

2021 Manufacturers Championship

1. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 138
2. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 111
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 42
4. Hyundai 2C Competition 28

25th April, 2021