Evans Wins a Subdued Rally Croatia

Elfyn Evans not only scored his first triumph since Secto Rally Finland 2021, but also his first on asphalt and in doing so, moved from fifth to equal-first in the drivers' championship standings. He is now tied on points with part time Toyota teammate Sébastien Ogier after round four of 13, with full-time teammate Kalle Rovanperä just a single point behind and M-Sport's Ott Tänak three more in arrears.

Early leader Thierry Neuville struck a rock with the rear wheel of his Hyundai on Saturday morning which created a bigger accident which made it impossible for him to continue. But Neuville's bad luck propelled the Welshman to first overall, after which he controlled the gap to second placed M-Sport Ford Puma driver Ott Tänak for the rest of the rally to win by 27.0sec for Toyota Gazoo Racing. This meant Toyota preserved its unbeaten Croatia Rally record whilst also increasing its manufacturers' championship lead over Hyundai Motorsport to 29 points.

The season's first pure asphalt rally delivered tremendous action, and Tänak looked a real threat to Evans, setting a furious pace early on Saturday afternoon. However, a transmission issue later on Saturday blighted the Estonian's charge and he was forced to cruise to the finish 31.6sec clear of Esapekka Lappi's Hyundai in third.

Lappi had lacked confidence on some of the dirtier sections of road, but consistency rewarded him with his first Hyundai i20 N podium, a welcome result after crashing out of the lead in the previous round. Behind him a trio of Toyotas were headed by defending champion Kalle Rovanperä, 19.7sec in arrears. The Finn had languished outside of the top ten after changing a faulty wheel in SS2 on Friday but hauled himself back up the leaderboard with an impressive recovery drive, even jumping teammate Ogier on the final morning of the rally to claim fourth overall by just 9.7sec.

Ogier, who solely led the championship before this rally, was left to rue what could have been. Although he trailed Evans by 1min28.0sec at the finish, changing a faulty wheel whilst leading on Friday and time penalties for a safety harness infringement amounted to roughly two-and-a-half minutes. Takamoto Katsuta made it four Toyotas in the top six ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who nursed his Puma to the finish with bent steering. WRC2 competitors Yohan Rossel, Nikolay Gryazin and Oliver Solberg completed the leaderboard.

After the rally an understandably subdued Evans said: "Obviously we've been working towards this for a long time, but it all feels so insignificant at the moment, that's the bottom line. After the focus of the weekend, we're all back to missing our friend [Craig Breen] now. Straightaway after coming across the finish line, that's all we can think about. We promised Craig's family we would enjoy the weekend, and we've done that. We're all thinking of them right now." And so say all of us.

23rd April, 2023