Rally Croatia 2021 Review – Seb and Julien take a last gasp win!

The first running of this event as a World Championship Rally saw a brilliant challenge for the crews and teams. The twenty stages over the three days saw a really good mix of fast sections and technical parts. This brought the strengths and weaknesses of the different cars, with the Yaris WRC suited to the twisty sections and the longer i20 WRC able to show the pace on the faster sections.

 

The story of shakedown was that Elfyn set the pace from Thierry and Kalle. Leading the young drivers was Taka, with Adrien and Gus. The top WRC2 driver was Teemu with Nikolay and Mads second and third in that category.

 

Friday

The start list looked like this – Rovanperä, Neuville, Ogier, Evans, Tänak, Breen, Katsuta, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Loubet.

The action started with a short stage. SS1 Rude – Plešivica 1 – 6.94 km and there was drama immediately! Pushing hard young Finn Kalle, went off the road on the exit of a right-hander and there was no way back to the road. The car had gone through the trees at the side of the road, and they were out. Seb Ogier also ran wide at the same place and slid along the same part of the road, but did go completely off like his younger teammate, and managed to make it to the stage end in fifth place. Thierry won the stage from Ott and Elfyn, just 2.8 seconds between the top three.

Into SS2 Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh 1 – 23.76 km, and Thierry was quickest from Elfyn and Seb, who moved up into third place. Ott dropped two places, after loosing time with the stage being quite slippery. Craig was also another to lose out and was now in fifth.

Seb won SS3 Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok 1 – 10.10 km with his teammate Elfyn setting the exact same time as his French teammate whilst Thierry was third and still held the lead. The gap between the three was just 11 seconds. Further back, our three young drivers, Taka, Adrien and Gus held sixth, seventh and eighth.

Thierry took SS4 Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novaki 1 – 9.11 km with Elfyn remaining the closest challenger to the Belgian with just half a second between them at the end of the stage, whilst Seb was a further half second back. There was a change in positions further back with Gus and Pierre-Louis both moving up into seventh and eighth and Taka dropping to ninth after braking too late and running wide. Holding an impressive sixth overall was Adrien Fourmoux, just 2.3 behind his compatriot Pierre- Louis.

After the break, SS5 Rude – Plešivica 2 – 6.94 km was taken by a resurgent Ott, with Thierry and Seb setting the second and third best times. Adrien and Gus were holding sixth and seventh for M-Sport. Thierry suffered a half spin, but as mentioned was still quick enough to go second fastest.

Into SS6 Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh 2 – 23.76 km and it was a stage win for Seb, beating Elfyn and Thierry as the three of them continued their battle at the top of the standings. Taka remained in ninth overall after a spin in a slippery section.

SS7 Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok 2 – 10.10 km was taken by Seb with Thierry second fastest. Seb’s time took him a little closer to the Belgian. Elfyn remained there or thereabouts with the third best time in the stage and the gap was closing a little too under eight seconds.

The final stage of the day, SS8 Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novaki 2 – 9.11 km was taken by Seb from Ott and Thierry. Seb’s pace meant that he moved ahead of Elfyn who was only fourth fastest. Further back, Adrien was going really well, setting the fifth best time. The Frenchman’s debut at the top was going really well.

 

Classification after Day One

1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 55:36.8
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +7.7
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +8.0
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +31.9
5 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +54.8
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:14.7
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:21.7
8 P.L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:31.5

 

Let’s hear from the drivers at the end of day one.

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (1st)

“I am pretty pleased with the day; it was tough for everybody out there. This morning, when Kalle (Rovanperä) went off, our main goal was to benefit from the good road position and build up a gap, which we were able to do. In the afternoon, we wanted to maintain that gap. Of course, it’s always the target to extend the lead but I struggled in some parts; being first on the road we had sections with lots of gravel, no traction, and we had a bit of a spin too. We lost maybe six seconds during the day, but we have increased our overall lead slightly from lunchtime service, so we have to be pleased with that. Everyone will keep pushing tomorrow. The stages are challenging but I like them so hopefully I can stay in the lead.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 03, Croatia Rally
22-25 April 2021
Thierry Neuville
Photographer: Austral
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (4th)

“I have been improving during the day, and that’s the main thing to take away from today. It is definitely a very demanding event, so it’s important to feel comfortable in the car. I have not been able to get that feeling but, step by step this afternoon, we found a good direction. Generally, we are not too far off and anything is still possible. I know the places where we can improve; we just need to find the solutions to feel more comfortable.”

Craig Breen (5th)

“It’s been quite a difficult start to this rally, which is our first tarmac event in a WRC car for some time. In some places we felt things were getting better, but we struggled in others. Our pre-event test was held on a completely different type of road – wide, fast and with grip – so the reference has not been the same. This is all part of the learning process. I have some ideas what to do tomorrow in order to find improvements, mainly on the differentials side. We’ll see if we can make that work. There are a lot of stages still to go in this rally.”

 

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (2nd)

“I am pleased with how well we reacted today after a difficult start this morning. We had a big moment on the first stage on the same corner that Kalle went off: I was surprised that this corner was even more slippery than the rest and we went a bit wide, and unfortunately, we had a tyre come off the rim at that point so we lost some time there. I also went with a setup this morning that I had not tried in our pre-event test and was not super-happy with it, but then I went back to something I knew and immediately felt better. We had a good afternoon and we are in the fight and now we have to keep that momentum up tomorrow.”

Elfyn Evans (4th)

“It’s not been a perfect day to start the rally but overall, it has been pretty solid. I think the morning loop was pretty good in some very challenging and changeable conditions. This afternoon was not bad, but I was just losing a few seconds in every stage more or less, and especially relative to Seb who had a good afternoon. Overall, the car has been working well and we have a few ideas to maybe try and improve things for tomorrow, and of course we will keep fighting.”

Kalle Rovanperä (DNF)

“The first stage was really tricky and really slippery for everybody and this was creating a bit too much understeer. Near the end of the stage on the last downhill section I was still trying to push a bit. In this one fast right-hander it was especially slippery: The grip just disappeared, I had a bit too much speed and we went off the road and had quite a big crash. The good thing is that myself and Jonne are OK. I’m really sorry for the team. It was my mistake and I need to learn from this for the future.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (6th)

“I have been taking so much enjoyment from driving this car on these stages, and I am so glad to say that I already have two top-five stage times! That was one of my goals for the weekend, and it’s great to see that we could achieve that already on the first day.

“The stages are so difficult – there is only a very fine line to follow and if you’re a bit early or a bit wide then you’re straight in the dirt. I’ve made a few small mistakes like this, but I’ve also seen quite a few lines like this as well – so maybe I’m not the only one!

“We made a big improvement from one pass to the other today, and I hope that we can do the same again tomorrow. Honestly, it’s been amazing driving this car on these crazy stages. I need to stay focused, but I can’t wait to do it all again tomorrow!”

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“It’s been a good day for us, and I’m really happy to see the turnaround from where I was in Monte to where I am now. There’s still some time to be found in the new pacenote system and getting used to having less information in there – but I can see a clear way forward now, and that’s really promising.

“I’m still losing some time here and there, but we’re looking at seconds rather than 10s of seconds now – so that’s a massive improvement. I’ve really enjoyed my day out there, and we’ll do some more work tonight to hopefully see another improvement tomorrow.”

Teemu Suninen (3rd WRC 2)

“It’s a big shame that I made the mistake this morning otherwise we would have been challenging for the win – but it has still been quite an okay day for us. The pace is there and we’ve proved that the Fiesta can challenge for the top results. There’s still a long way to go with two interesting and tricky days rallying, so anything can happen!”

Tom Kristensson (6th WRC 2)

“I had a really good feeling going into that third stage this afternoon, but I was a bit out of the line going into the first left-hander. It was a very fast corner that went immediately right, and I was too early. We touched a small stone which pulled the car into a spin, and then hit a bigger rock on the outside which damaged the cooling package.

“Hopefully the damage isn’t too much and we’ll be able to start tomorrow because I was really pleased with our performance today. We had a great day with brilliant progress and a really good feeling in the car. So hopefully we can start again with big smiles tomorrow.”

 

Saturday

With eight stages ahead of the crews, totalling 121.92 km’s, there remained a big challenge for them all. The start list looked like this – Katsuta, Loubet, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Breen, Tänak, Evans, Ogier, Neuville.

The first stage, SS9 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci 1 – 20.30 km was won by Seb, from Adrien and Elfyn. Thierry’s lead evaporated after he could only manage the sixth best time, and he dropped to third overall. The Belgians teammate, Craig suffered a puncture, and he pulled over to change the wheel dropping from fifth to ninth.

Into SS10 Stojdraga – Gornja Vas 1 – 20.77 km, and we had a different winner, with Taka setting the pace from Seb and Elfyn. The Hyundai’s loss of pace continued with former leader Thierry could only manage the eighth best time and was now over fifteen seconds from the lead. There was a change in positions further down, with Pierre-Louis passing Gus for sixth overall.

Elfyn took SS11 Krašić – Vrškovac 1 – 11.11 km from a resurgent Thierry and Taka continued his good form in the morning stages with third fastest. The leader, Seb, could only manage the fourth best time, but remained at the head of the field by a reduced amount. Adrien was consolidating his fifth overall with another good time.

Seb fought back and won SS12 Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa 1 – 8.78 km from Ott and Elfyn. Seemed that Ott was dealing with the wayward handling of the i20 better than Thierry. Top M-Sport driver so far, Adrien was fourth in this one having further increased his advantage over Pierre-Louis to almost 30 seconds.

After the break, SS13 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci 2 – 20.30 km, Thierry found some pace with a change in the tyres that they were running, and set the fastest time, whilst Adrien and Ott were second and third. The Frenchman was loving the downhill slalom in this stage, and was therefore really in the groove. Seb suffered a puncture near the end of the stage, and slid wide. Gus also went well, setting the fourth best time and closed the gap a little to sixth placed Pierre-Louis.

Into SS14 Stojdraga – Gornja Vas 2 – 20.77 km, and Taka was making this stage his own, winning from Elfyn and Thierry. The top three remained Seb, Elfyn and Thierry, however the lead was definitely reducing. Meanwhile, Pierre-Louis went off after loosing the rear on a left-hander and the car came to a rest down a bank which was too steep to get back up. The Frenchman was now out for the rest of the day.

Seb hit back in SS15 Krašić – Vrškovac 2 – 11.11 km taking the win, but Thierry set the same time and was now closing the gap to Elfyn ahead and the lead down to under 10 seconds. Gus was happy with the pace that he was showing and clearly the new partnership with Chris was going well.

The final stage of the day then, SS16 Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa 2 – 8.78 km, and Seb rounded it off with another stage win, but only by four tenths of a second over Elfyn and Thierry in third. Taka was fourth fastest and closed the gap a little to Gus who was holding sixth overall.

 

Classification after Day Two

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:06:35.8
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +6.9
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +10.4
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +37.8
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:29.5
6 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +2:23.8
7 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +2:46.5
8 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +3:51.8

 

 

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It’s been a strong day with a good rhythm in the car. This morning I think we made the right call with the tyres, and the feeling with the car was great. We managed to take the lead, but not with a big gap. In the afternoon, the puncture in the first stage cost us 10 seconds, but the big positive is the great rhythm that we’ve had and we are in the lead tonight. It’s still really close, which means we will have to keep pushing tomorrow. There are still close to 80 kilometres to go and 10 seconds between three drivers is not much, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“This morning was a really strong loop for the whole team, but Seb was a little bit stronger than I was. We tried a setup change last night which didn’t really suit the dirtier sections. Then I had a frustrating first stage for us to open the afternoon loop, but after that things got much better. I changed another setting and found some confidence for the remainder of the loop. We’ve been playing with the car during the rally and now I’ve found a place where I’m happy, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It won’t be a case of a Sunday drive, with two very difficult stages to be done twice, so there’s quite a lot of mileage to go and it’s still all to play for.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“After an eventful morning, which was hampered by a wrong tyre choice, we did what we could to recover in the afternoon loop. The car was certainly working much better with the right tyres and the times improved too. We had a decent run, but it is really difficult to catch up a lot. Unfortunately, we were only able to gain time on one of the stages. Still, it was a trouble-free afternoon and it’s good to back in the fight for victory. The pressure is on, everybody is pushing hard and that will continue to be the case on the final day. If I want to win, I need to do a little bit more. We need to have a good think tonight to see what we can find. Anything is still possible and every day there are plenty of surprises. It’s not over until it’s over, so let’s go for it.”

Ott Tänak (4th)

“There’s no hiding from the fact that it’s been a tricky weekend for us. We have been consistent, but we’ve been missing the crucial final bit that gives us the performance we need to fight at the front. We didn’t have the right tyre choice this morning, particularly for the first stage, but even without that we’ve still not been on the pace we need to be. There’s not much we can do to improve that for tomorrow, but it’s still a decent day of rallying to come with two proper challenging stages – and plenty to focus on.”

Craig Breen (8th)

“We woke up this morning really looking forward to the day ahead, but that ended quickly, just 100 metres into the first stage when we picked up a puncture. It took the wind out of my sails, if I’m honest. With only one spare tyre we couldn’t take any risks for the rest of the loop. I tried to build my confidence for the afternoon as the car felt better than yesterday, but on some of the hairier parts it just didn’t fit like a glove on my hands. We can try some changes overnight, some smaller subtle things to help find the confidence and to allow us to let go a bit. I feel like I’m still having to hold back in places, which is a real pity because with the weather as it is, and with the profile of these stages – especially this afternoon – it really feels like back home. I know I have more to give.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“This has been a perfect day for us and I’m really happy with how everything has gone. We really focused on the first stage of the loop which is an amazing piece of road and so enjoyable to drive – especially the downhill section towards the end where it feels just like you’re skiing from left to right.

“We worked more on this stage than any of the others and it was great to see that when we really focus the pace can already be right at the top. Then on the other stages we were being a lot more careful as it’s easy to make a mistake.

“There have already been more positives than we expected this weekend, and I’m really, really happy with that. All of my targets have already been achieved, and I’m just sad that we only have one more day to drive this amazing car!”

Gus Greensmith (6th)

“It was a bit frustrating this morning when we weren’t quite on the same pace we had yesterday. To be fair, the car has been really good all weekend but I was just struggling a bit with the notes and adjusting to not having as much information in there.

“But all I needed was a bit of a reset, which came from three people in the team – and I’m sure you can guess who those three were! They told me just to enjoy myself a bit more and stop complaining when the time isn’t quite there.

“And they’re so right – I’m still doing the best job in the world and as soon as I relaxed everything felt a lot better and we set some much better times this afternoon.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

“This is quite a tricky rally but I’m really enjoying the challenge. Today has been good and we’ve had a good feeling in the car with some top times, but it’s going to be a tough day tomorrow with a really big fight. It’s a proper day with narrow stages and big crests, and we will need to push hard to keep the second position. But this is what we plan to do and I will just try to do my best.”

Tom Kristensson (DNF)

“This isn’t the start to the season that we wanted, and I’m so sorry for the mistake I made today. We had a small issue with the pacenotes at the beginning of the stage. We found our pace again, but I was struggling with my focus and it was a millisecond of lost concentration that resulted in quite a heavy crash. The car is quite badly damaged, but the most important thing is that me and David are both okay.

“It was completely my fault and I’m really, really sorry for the team. I was living a dream, and it turned into a nightmare – but these things can happen and I know that I need to put it behind me and focus on the positives to come back stronger. I’m sorry that I didn’t show my full potential this weekend, but I hope we can come back and prove it at the next rally.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone who is following me on this journey, and to the team who have been brilliant to work with this weekend. Good luck to Adrien, Gus and Teemu – and I hope they can all bring home a good team result tomorrow.”

 

Sunday

The final day then, and this was not a normal final day that we have seen in the past. The startlist looked like this – Loubet, Breen, Katsuta, Greensmith, Fourmaux, Tänak, Neuville, Evans, Ogier.

Four stages and 78.58km’s remained between the crews and the finish line. There was drama as Seb headed out to the first stage though. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos, but to summarise the Toyota and another road car collided leading to damage to the co-driver’s door. The door was badly bent out of shape at the top, but the crew were allowed to continue to compete.

Elfyn won SS17 Bliznec – Pila 1 – 25.20 km from Thierry and Seb and the gap was now just 4.2 seconds between the teammates. Gus lost a lot of time with an issue with the brakes and was getting caught by Taka and the gap between them was now down to less than 10 seconds.

The push from the young Welshman continued in SS18 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 1 – 14.09 km as he took another stage and with Seb only third fastest and seven seconds slower than his teammate, we had a new overall leader in Elfyn. Another driver moving up the leaderboard was Taka. Sadly, Gus dropped a lot of pace after suffering a further problem with his car. He’d lost all hydraulic pressure, with the result that his paddle-shift and handbrake systems both failed and he was now in seventh.

Thierry took SS19 Bliznec – Pila 2 – 25.20 km by just four tenths of a second from Elfyn and Seb. Elfyn’s lead was now 3.9 seconds over his teammate. All the other positions were really settled as we came down to the final stage of the rally. The good news was that Gus had fixed the hydraulic problem with his Fiesta and he was back up to pace, notwithstanding the brake problem.

The final stage then, SS20 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec 2 [Power Stage] – 14.09 km and there was a subtle change to the running order – Mikkelsen, Bulacia, Suninen, Østberg, Loubet, Breen, Greensmith, Katsuta, Fourmaux, Tänak, Neuville, Ogier, Evans.

Craig held the fastest time for a while, as Gus, Taka, Adrien and Ott came through but couldn’t beat his time. Thierry finished next, but was not able to beat the time either as he’d run wide just before a right-hand corner. Finally, Seb came through and beat Craig’s time, so we were just awaiting Elfyn to finish. Well, what unfolded in the following minutes was incredible. The Welshman was going even faster than Seb, and then at the final corner of the stage before the long run to the flying finish Elfyn ran wide onto the grass. When he crossed the line, he’d lost his advantage and also his earlier time gain and was only fourth fastest. Seb had taken the win by just six tenths of a second, the third closest in history!

Here’s the final standings.

Final Overall Classification – Croatia Rally

1 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC 2:51:22.9
2 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +0.6
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +8.1
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +1:25.1
5 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +3:09.7
6 T. Katsuta D. Barritt Toyota Yaris WRC +3:31.8
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +3:58.8
8 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +4:28.2
9 M. Østberg T. Eriksen Citroën C3 R5 +10:00.8
10 T. Suninen M. Markkula Ford Fiesta R5 +10:29.3

 

Here’s the thoughts of the drivers after this amazing rally.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier (1st)

“It has been a real rollercoaster of emotions this weekend. The most important thing is that everyone is safe after what happened this morning on the road section; this was my main concern when it happened. I also thought my rally could be over, but the car was not too badly damaged and we could carry on. I’m not sure I believed it was possible to still win after everything that happened, but I think everybody knows that I never give up and I tried to keep fighting until the end. I feel for Elfyn who did a good job this weekend and was especially strong this morning. But we had good pace this weekend and just had some issues that slowed us down at times. It’s nice to share the podium in another one-two for the team.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 03 / Rally Croatia / 22-25 April, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans (2nd)

“To come second is never the way you want to finish when you go into the last stage with the lead. Obviously, Seb had a very, very strong last stage and unfortunately for us we made an error on what was basically the last proper corner. It’s frustrating but at the same time it’s a solid result, and a very good result for the team. They have done a great job to give both Seb and I a fantastic car this weekend. We fought tooth and nail all the way through and it was good fun.”

Takamoto Katsuta (6th)

“I’m pretty happy about this weekend. Of course, some stage times were very good, but I’m not so happy about my performance at some other times. So, it’s quite up and down, but this is part of the learning to become a better driver. The two stage wins on Saturday were very good and especially on the second loop because then I had similar conditions to the other drivers behind. Compared to Friday it was a big step and I think this just came with experience. I hadn’t driven on these sorts of roads much before this rally so I had not so much confidence and I couldn’t know what was going to happen. With every stage I was learning and that was making me more comfortable and confident. Thank you to my gravel crew Juho and Craig and to the whole team.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville (3rd)

“We have tried our absolute best all weekend, pushing hard and on the limit of the car’s performance. Right up until the Power Stage, we never gave up in what was a very close battle for the victory. Unfortunately, I overshot a junction in the stage which lost us at least three seconds, but even without that it would not have been quite enough. The pace between the frontrunners has been so incredibly close. But we gave it everything we had, and I’ve had a good feeling with our car on these tricky tarmac stages. We enjoyed the rally and Martijn did a great job; it’s not been easy for the co-drivers this weekend, so we have to take some positives away.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 03, Croatia Rally
22-25 April 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak (4th)

“This has not been the level of performance that we would have expected or hoped for coming to this rally. I enjoy tarmac rallies but throughout the weekend it has been far out of my comfort zone. It’s just not felt natural, and we’ve lacked the performance edge we needed. It is clear that there is a job for me to do, but we can take some consolation from the job that Thierry has done this weekend.”

Craig Breen (8th)

“It has been a disappointing weekend overall. It was pretty much game over after our puncture on Saturday morning, just 100 metres into the first stage. It’s difficult to go 150% on these tricky stages. We have worked hard to make it feel like home inside the car, but it just hasn’t been the case. At times, it has felt nice, and we’ve been able to give it a push, like in the Power Stage, but globally we needed more. Having said that, I have enjoyed the rally, I’ve learned a lot and definitely have a lot of food for thought.”

M-Sport Ford WRT

Adrien Fourmaux (5th)

“I’m so happy with our weekend and the only disappointment is that the rally is now over! It’s been a big challenge on the Croatian roads but I have enjoyed every kilometre; and taken a lot of pleasure from driving this car on these stages.

“We showed good speed throughout the weekend and honestly there were more positives than we had been expecting. We improved our pace a lot and I achieved all of my goals and more.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone in the team, and I am so grateful to M-Sport and Red Bull for this incredible opportunity – and to everyone who has supported me over the past four years.”

Gus Greensmith (7th)

“The majority of the weekend has been pretty positive, and I was really happy to see the turnaround from where I was in Monte to where I am now. There’s still some time to be found, but I can see a clear way forward and everything seems to be working well.

“I was fairly confident of maintaining sixth place today, so it was a shame to lose that with the technical issues this morning. But all in all, I’ve really enjoyed the weekend and looking forward to seeing what we can do at one of my favourite events next time out in Portugal.”

Teemu Suninen (2nd WRC 2)

“It’s been a really challenging rally but, in the end, I would say that our performance was pretty good. We didn’t get a test in dry conditions so we had to learn a lot through the early stages. It was a shame to have lost some time with a mistake on Friday, but we found a way to drive fast and show the performance of the car which was good.”

Warren’s Thoughts

Well, let’s start at Toyota first. After the disappointment of Kalle crashing out on Friday morning’s first stage, Elfyn, Seb and Takamoto had a great rally! They all took stage wins and there was a fantastic fight between Seb and Elfyn for victory which was only decided on the final stage. It’s great to see a team allow their drivers to fight like this, and just shows that the trust they place in them is definitely well placed. For Elfyn to miss out on victory is hard to take, but nevertheless, he took a well deserved second place, placing him third in the drivers’ championship standings.

2021 FIA World Rally Championship / Round 03 / Rally Croatia / 22-25 April, 2021 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

At Hyundai Thierry was in a strong position at the end of Friday’s stages and the tyre choices that were taken on Saturday really held the Belgian back from the best pace that he can produce. It was interesting to see that when the i20 was not at it’s best, Ott was actually quicker than Thierry. The Estonian’s were at no point comfortable with their car, and the best they could manage was fourth overall. One thing that can be certain, they will be back on the pace next time out. Finally, Craig who was competing on tarmac for the first time for a while saw a puncture really end his hopes of a good result. He and Paul certainly hoped to show better pace, as the roads were very similar to those in Ireland, but they just couldn’t get comfortable with the car.

 

Finally, M-Sport had a very good event for their young drivers. Adrien showed really great pace setting two second fastest times on his favourite stage, and looked comfortable in the Fiesta WRC. Gus and Chris also enjoyed a very good first rally together, setting some good times and only really losing out with a couple of problems with his car. Nevertheless, I’d say that it was his best performance to date in a full WRC car, and that can only bode well for the future. Teemu also produced a very good performance in the Fiesta WRC2, the kind that we have become used to with him.

 

Next event is Rally Portugal which runs from the 20th of May to the 23rd of May.

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers’ Standings
After round three

1 S. Ogier 61
2 T. Neuville 53
3 E. Evans 51
4 O. Tänak 40
5 K. Rovanperä 39
6 C. Breen 24
7 T. Katsuta 24
8 A. Fourmaux 12
9 G. Greensmith 12
10 D. Sordo 11

 

2021 FIA World Rally Championship for Manufacturers’ Standings
After round three

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

Rally Croatia 2021 Preview – Back to Tarmac!

We come to the third round of this year’s championship with young Finn Kalle Rovanperä leading the title race from Thierry Neuville and Seb Ogier.

This event sees the crews face the challenge of making completely new notes for stages that they have not seen before. They will relish the challenge though, and will be looking forward to the return of competition.

Making their first start in a full Fiesta WRC will be Adrien Fourmaux and Renaud Jamoul. The French-Belgian crew are sharing the second Fiesta WRC with their teammates Teemu and Mikko. It will be interesting to see how they match up with Gus and his new co-driver Chris Patterson.

Also making his debut in the championship are 2019 European Rally Champions Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock with the Rally Warrior/ SXM Competition squad who are running a Skoda Fabia in the WRC3 class for the duo. By the time they make their start, they will have completed two tests as they look to start on the front foot.

There are twenty stages over the three days of the rally – Here’s the full details below.

 

Let’s hear from the drivers!

Toyota Gazoo Racing

Sébastien Ogier

“Croatia will be a new rally and I’m excited to still discover new things in this sport at this point in my career. It has been a long time since we had a full asphalt rally like this one, and the Yaris is a great car to drive on asphalt, so I’m sure it will be fun. From what I’ve seen so far, the roads could be quite challenging, maybe a bit dirty and narrow in places, so I’m sure there will be plenty of action ahead of us. The pre-event test was very important because we have new tyres this season and this was the first chance to drive the slick tyres on dry asphalt. I did a lot of runs, trying all of the different combinations of tyres and trying to be ready to make the best choices during the rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“Croatia is an all-new event so we don’t know exactly what to expect. We’ve been able to study videos of the stages to learn as much as we can, but nothing can substitute actually being there on the recce and seeing the route for real. The stages look quite mixed, with some wide fast parts and some very narrow bumpy parts, and there could be quite a lot of cutting. So it looks like we need to be quite adaptable to the different surfaces and different character of stages that we’ll face. We don’t have masses of experience with this car on dry asphalt or with the Pirelli tyres, so in testing we were trying quite a few different settings. But the feeling in the car was generally positive straight away from the first runs.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“I’m really happy with how the has season has started for me and hopefully we can carry on the same way. I’m not feeling any pressure even though I’m leading the championship: It’s only been two rallies and we have a long season ahead. For sure it’s nice to be in this position but we have to work hard to try to stay in the fight. I’m excited for Croatia: It will be the first time for me on a proper asphalt event with the Yaris, as so far, I’ve only had events with winter conditions like Monza and Monte Carlo. I’m hoping that we can have dry weather like we did on the test. The stages look really nice, but if it’s raining, I think there will be a lot of mud on the road and that will be tricky.”

 

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“I always look forward to tarmac events. This time it is a new one for everybody; none of us has been previously competed in Croatia. Also, for the teams, we have no experience of these stages. It’s going to be a challenging event but I think everybody likes the fact that it is new. Because it is our first time at Croatia Rally, there is a lot of hard work for us to do as soon as we arrive to ensure we are as prepared as possible.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 01, Rallye Monte-Carlo
21-24 January 2021
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“I have never been to Croatia and I haven’t seen any footage, so currently it’s all new information. Hopefully it will be a proper event; I have heard that the roads should be good fun there. It seems that there will be a few tarmac events in the championship this year, so it is a surface we need to be strong on. We will aim to hit the ground running from the beginning and continue our positive momentum from Finland.”

Craig Breen

“Croatia brings the first tarmac round of the season and a new event for everybody. It’s honestly quite difficult to find any information about the rally, but it looks like it will be an interesting event, hopefully with some nice weather, and some stages in the mountains. I’m definitely really looking forward to my first proper event on tarmac with the Hyundai i20 WRC in the championship. It should be a nice event.”

 

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“I’m really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel and with Chris sitting alongside it feels like a completely fresh start to the season. I want to thank Elliott for the time we spent together. He’s a great co-driver and a good friend, but at this point in my career I can only benefit from the experience someone like Chris will bring to the car. It’s all about ironing out those small mistakes, and with his help I believe I can do that.

“We’ve already spent quite a few days together in the workshop and going through the pacenotes, but this weekend’s test will be our first time sitting together in the rally car. It will take some time to get used to one another, but he’s been great to work with so far and I can already see that experience coming to the fore with ideas and suggestions about what we can do to improve.

“Hopefully that will all come together for a strong result next week. I want to deliver a consistent performance with no mistakes, and I see no reason why we won’t be able to do that. We know that the Fiesta is a quick car on Tarmac which automatically gives you that extra bit of confidence, and the new engine will make a positive difference as well.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“I’m really excited to take this next step in my career and want to thank M-Sport and Red Bull for the opportunity; as well as the FFSA and all my partners, family and supporters – because without all of them I wouldn’t be here today!

“This won’t be my first time behind the wheel of the Fiesta WRC as we drove it at Rally Legend last year and also at the pre-event test for Arctic Rally – but this will be my first time driving against the world’s best drivers in the FIA World Rally Championship.

“There will be a lot to learn, but I’m really looking forward to it and will focus on gaining as much knowledge and experience as I can.

“We have a pre-event test this weekend to really get to grips with the car and dial into the Croatian roads which will be completely new to everyone. From what I’ve seen, the stages look really interesting – fast and narrow and quite technical in places. It’s going to be a big challenge, but one that I’m excited to experience.

“I’m looking forward to rallying on pure asphalt again and even more so behind the wheel of this car! I can’t wait to get started and am looking forward to seeing where we are and how we can improve throughout the weekend.”

 

Teemu Suninen

“It’s great to be competing at next week’s Rally Croatia. This event wasn’t on my calendar at the start of the year, and I want to thank Malcolm and Rich for finding a way for me to compete. The more time I get behind the wheel of any rally car the better, and I’m looking forward to experiencing this new event and discovering the Croatian stages.

“Of course, the WRC 2 category is really competitive at the moment and I’ve not driven the Fiesta Rally2 in a really long time – but it’s all good experience and I’m looking forward to the challenge and what I hope will be a really good battle at the head of the field. It will also be good to rediscover a car without centre differential – so that I can be ready for any 2022 testing the team might need in the coming months.”

Tom Kristensson

“I’m really excited to start this next stage of my career. This is such a fantastic opportunity for me and having worked so hard to be here I plan to make the most of every second. It was always my plan to drive my prize Ford Fiesta Rally2 in the FIA World Rally Championship, and to do that as part of M-Sport’s WRC 2 team is really special. There will be a lot to learn, but I’m in the best place to do that and really looking forward to our first event together.

“I want to be as ready as I can be so we’ve been pretty busy over the past couple of weeks with a fairly intense period of practice and preparation. I drove M-Sport Poland’s Ford Fiesta Rally3 at Rallye Sanremo last weekend, and then stayed in Italy for some pacenote practice with my gravel crew. We had also planned to test in Italy but when we got to the test road it was completely full of snow and had to make a quick change! We’re now going to try and test in Slovenia, before heading to Croatia for an official test with the M-Sport team.

“It’s been a busy few weeks, but hopefully all worth it and we’ll be able to make the most of the experience and show good progress throughout the weekend.”

Summary

We are set then for an exciting rally. Who could take the victory then? Well, it’s hard to look past any of the Toyota crews. Both Seb and Elfyn are capable of winning on this surface and Kalle will be quick as well. Could he take his first win? Well, he will be opening the road, and will have potentially the best road conditions for the first runs through Friday’s stages.

It’s fair to say that Ott and Thierry will also be quick as well this weekend, as both have won on tarmac before, and the Belgian took part in Rally Sanremo as part of his preparations for Croatia as he and his new co-driver looked to get more time in competition together. Craig and Paul will also be competing for Hyundai this weekend.

With a young driver line-up at M-Sport, the team are not likely to be challenging for victory, but will be looking to set some good times on the stages as Gus and Adrien continue their development at the top of rallying world.

 

Chris Ingram and Ross Whittock to make their World Rally Championship debut.

The 2019 European Champions will be making their first start in the WRC at this month’s Rally Croatia for a team named Rally Warrior. They are a brand-new team, and they will be going up against some more experienced drivers and teams. Never-the-less, there is no doubting the quality of this duo, and they will be a crew to watch, and they will know the car that they are about to take this opportunity, having driven a Skoda Fabia Evo Rally 2 to the ERC title.

If you read my interview with Chris from last years Autosport International, you will know that Chris and Ross crowdfunded their drive to the 2019 ERC title. If you haven’t, I recommend that you check it out. The good news is that this deal is for two seasons, and is fully supported by a number of big backers, giving them a fantastic platform to be able to concentrate all of their preparations on the events, and not have all these distractions for getting backing organised for events.

Chris has joined forces with the vastly successful SXM Competition team from Belgium to pilot a Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo. “As a team we wanted to do another program in WRC-3, because this is the highest level of motorsport. I was very honoured that Chris contacted me to see if we could have a collaboration, said Fred Miclotte from SXM Competition. “I have known Chris and Ross already for some time and I’m sure they form a fantastic team together. I think that we all have the same goal for 2021. We all want to show our potential and that’s why I believe so much in it.”

 

Let’s hear from Chris.

What does this opportunity mean to you?

“It means the world to me and I’m so fortunate. When you grow up in a country that produced Richard Burns and Colin McRae, two of the best rally drivers that ever lived, it’s a massive source of inspiration. When you’ve got the kind of passion for this sport that I have you want nothing more than to try to get to the WRC and achieve just a fraction of what they did. Of course, they were world champions and obviously that’s the ultimate goal, but it takes time, talent and a phenomenal amount of hard work to get that far. It also needs financial support and I wouldn’t be here without my main sponsor, CarFinance 247. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, just like I’ve done throughout my career.

“There have been some really tough moments to get this far but it feels so special to be able to say I’m a World Rally Championship driver,” said Ingram. “I’ve given everything I have to get this opportunity and I have so many people to thank and so much to be grateful for.

“Winning the ERC title in 2019 opened up lots of doors and I was close to landing a really good drive in 2020. The pandemic slammed all those doors shut, but I never gave up and never stopped believing my dream would come true. I’m so lucky to have this chance. “It’s a two-year programme and I can’t lose sight of that fact. It’s been almost 18 months since I last drove a top-level rally car so I’ve got to build up my confidence, learn the events and adapt to the championship because it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The World rally rounds are another level. I’m going to give it everything.”

” You’ve secured a two-year programme. How important is that?

“It’s vital. Experience is so important in the WRC, which is so tough and competitive. And you only get experience by getting to the finish of each event you start. So, in year one, the objective is to keep a calm head, not do anything stupid, learn as much as possible and complete as many kilometres as possible. Points and podiums on top of all that would be a massive bonus, but there’s no pressure on me to do that. The only pressure is to get myself in a position where I can go for top results in year two.”

Why are you worthy of this chance?

“I’m totally committed, totally determined and I’ve won two of the main titles below WRC level. I have sacrificed everything personally to be able to chase my rally dreams. It has been a challenging road to say the least just to get to this point, we had to launch a crowdfunding bid just so Ross and I could get to the final rounds of our European championship-winning season but thankfully we made it and lifted the trophy. I train hard and push myself to be the best that I can be and I am so grateful the people who have helped me to get this far.”

You’ve used your social media channels to promote HUMEN, The Men’s Mental Health Movement. Why?

“I achieved a dream when I became European champion. However, competing against some of the fastest rally drivers on some of Europe’s most dangerous roads wasn’t the challenging part. I was struggling, fighting and overcoming a much harder battle with my own mental health. I hope that by being open about my challenges it will help other men to get talking. I have struggled with hard times in my personal life. I became very depressed when everything hit me all at once, financial pressures, relationships, family illnesses and the thought I couldn’t continue my career. Going home just a few days after each rally and even after winning the ERC, I would get so depressed with my personal life and sink into a very dark place, as I didn’t seek help. Men should talk.”

What are biggest challenges you’ll need to overcome in the WRC?

“I’ve not driven a powerful rally car since November 2019, all the events I’m planning to do will be new for me, it’s a new team and I’m up against the best drivers in the world. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’ve never had it easy in my career. I’m looking forward to facing all of the challenges head on as always and I feel confident in the knowledge I have a fantastic team around to support Ross and myself.”

 

I for one am glad that Chris and Ross have this chance to compete in the greatest championship in the world, and will be keeping a close eye on their progress.