Rally Croatia (22-25 April) was a World Rally Championship event that will live long in the memory. The 3rd closest finish in the WRC’s 49-year history, with a likely name rising to the top of the standings on what turned out to be a crazy final day. Of course, it was reigning champion Sebastian Ogier who claimed top honours at Rally Croatia, finishing a ridiculous 0.6 seconds ahead of his Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Elfyn Evans.
Rally Croatia’s debut on the WRC calendar certainly delivered its fair share of drama, with several lead changes, and the aforementioned nailbiting finish. Perhaps the person who was most surprised with the final result was Ogier himself, who had a morning to forget heading into the final day of stages. A horror start to the final day’s running at Rally Croatia saw Ogier involved in a collision with a civilian road car on the way to that day’s opening stage. It left the reigning champion nursing a bad back and damage to co-driver Julien Ingrassia’s side of the vehicle.
This led to Ogier conceding the Rally lead to his Welsh teammate and coming under fire from third place man Thierry Neuville in his Hyundai. A lesser driver may have struggled from here on in, but Sebastian Ogier isn’t a seven-time world champion for nothing. When the event came to its climax with the Wolf Power Stage, Ogier capped off an incredible comeback to claim his 51st Career Rally Win.
The Frenchman was delighted, albeit a bit shocked with the result, and had plenty to say on the drama that had befallen him;
“It’s been a crazy hell of a ride. I thought in the moment my rally was over because of the impact. My back is still hurting honestly, and luckily the car was not too badly damaged,”
“I was still able to carry on and at the end I was not in optimum condition for the morning but still managed to catch the victory in the last stage. This one, I did not believe in it any more at the end, but we can enjoy it for sure.
“I think the car was driving straight so I think the main damage was aerodynamic and probably psychological a little bit for me. But most important, I want to say that everyone is safe and unhurt from this road incident. That was my main concern when it happened.”
The road collision may not have cost Ogier the win, but it did cause other ramifications. The French ace received a €5000 fine for leaving the scene of the accident, which was further compounded with a suspended one rally ban. Fans worried that Ogier will miss the next WRC event should rest easy, as the ban will only be enforced if he commits a similar offence in the next six months. To add further insult to injury, Ogier was handed another fine of €2000 for ignoring a red traffic signal moments after the now-infamous incident.
Fines are one thing, and whilst of course, Ogier was grateful nobody in the incident was seriously injured, he can count his lucky stars that his WRC car survived the incident as well. He reflects on this knowing all too well things could have gone differently;
“Luckily the impact was straight on, maybe one of the strongest points of the car,” he said. “It damaged a bit the cosmetic but behind it, the wheel was straight and the roll cage was untouched and even the door, the foam protection, was in it so the safety was still there.”
After a lacklustre showing in the snow and ice of the 2nd round of the WRC in Finland, where Ogier only managed a 20th place finish, the reigning champion was determined to make amends in Croatia. Things looked to be going well when Ogier claimed the Rally lead on Saturday running after a poor tyre choice from Thierry Neuville. With his luck prevailing the drama on Sunday running, Ogier managed to narrowly beat his teammate. After such a narrow defeat for the Welshman, Ogier can understand his inevitable pain, but feels that his performance merited a win at the end of the day;
“Of course, in the moment I feel for Elfyn because he has done a good job this weekend but I think we didn’t stole either this victory. We have been pretty strong the whole weekend,” he added.
“Some issues have slowed us down at some points but the global level performance was good so I think we can be happy with that. And the most important is it’s a one-two for the team this weekend and, at this stage in the season that’s very important.”
That one-two may prove to be vital come the end of the season, as Toyota Gazoo Racing has surged to the top of the Manufacturers’ Standings, some 27 points ahead of Hyundai Motorsport.
As for Ogier, he too sits at the top of the standings, now leading the Driver’s Championship by eight points ahead of Neuville. He will be hoping to extend his championship lead in the first of four back-to-back gravel events at Vodafone Rally de Portugal (20 – 23 May). If he can spare himself any more off-stage mishaps, then sensible money could be bet on super Sebastian Ogier fighting for another rally win, for now though, rest assured he can be extremely satisfied with his Rally Croatia performance.