Thierry Neuville took an overnight lead in his Hyundai i20 WRC after day one of WRC Rally Croatia, but Sebastien Ogier started a fight back on the afternoon loop after being 12.9 second down after stage 5 to be 7.7seconds behind at the end of day 1.
There was a dramatic start to the day for Ogier’s fellow Toyota team mate as championship leader Kalle Rovenpera’s rally lasted less than four minutes. Too quick into a right hander, the young Finn left the road and rolled multiple times, causing substantial damage to his Yaris WRC. He will not return on Saturday within the Rally2 restart rules.
This allowed Neuville to be first on the road for the rest of the day, a crucial road position advantage as with each passing car more and more gravel and mud was pulled out onto the dry tarmac roads. A slight scare on the final stage came as Neuville tried to push more, but he stated it was all under control.
Three stages wins out of four in the morning loop looked like the Belgian could soon have a commanding lead at the end of the day, but Ogier fought back with threestage wins in the afternoon, one of which was his 600th WRC stage win to be just 7.7 seconds behind overnight.
The Frenchman almost went the same way as his team mate on the first stage of the day, videos on social media showing him sideways on the same corner as Rovenpera, but he managed to recover the moment. It wasn’t completely cost free however, as it gave him a left rear puncture and meant he would have to complete the remaining three stages of the morning knowing he only had one spare left.
Elfyn Evans had a quiet day and was third overall after the eight stages. A fastest time on stage 3 broke up Neuville’s dominant morning and Evans was the man leading the charge to Neuville until Ogier nipped past him by just 0.3 seconds on the final stage of the day.
Ott Tanak was fourth overall after a day where the Estonian just simply did not have the pace, a fastest time on stage 5 being a highlight of the day for the Hyundai driver. Starting the day on hard tyres all round, it was expected that these would pay dividends towards the end of the first loop as it was hoped the tyres would have much more grip compared to the soft and hard mixtures taken by the other crews.
This did not materialise and in the afternoon he acknowledged that the pace wasn’t quite there, but that he was “comfortable” in the car at current speed on show. His team mate Craig Breen ended the day in fifth overall as he competed in his first tarmac event in a WRC car since 2018. He wasn’t happy with his car, stating at the end of stage 8 that he had things he needed to change on the car for tomorrow’s stages.
It was an impressive debut for M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux, has he held sixth overall after his first ever day at the top tier of the sport. Beating his more experienced team mate Gus Greensmith on every stage. Greensmith was in seventh, just seven seconds behind his team mate but finished the day high spirits.
Pierre-Louis Loubet brought his i20 home in eighth and was 51.7 seconds ahead of Takamoto Katsuta who finished the day in ninth. Mads Ostberg rounded out the top 10.
Top 3 Overall
1. Thierry Neuville – Hyundai i20WRC – 55:36.8
2. S. Ogier – Toyota Yaris WRC – +7.7
3. Elfyn Evans – Toyota Yaris WRC – +8.0
FIA World Rally Championship 2
Mads Ostberg had a great start on his return to defend his title as he lead the FIA World Rally Championship 2 support category after the first day in his Citroen C3 Rally2, while championship leader Andreas Mikkelsen hit trouble.
A broken control arm put Mikkelsen into a spin on stage 2 and while he got going again in his Skoda Fabia evo2, he has lost over 34 minutes on the stage. The Norweigen finds him self last overall, but seventh on the WRC2 category.
Nikolay Gryazin was actually fastest out of the blocks before Ostberg moved into the lead on stage 3. An off on stage 4 cost Teemu Suninen at least 30 seconds, but he was able to get back onto the road and held third overall, but was 52.5 seconds behind the WRC2 leader.
Top 3 Overall
- Mads Ostberg – Citroen C3 Rally2 – 58:54.4
- Nikolay Gryazin – VW Polo GTi R5 – +7.8
- Teemu Suninen – Ford Fiesta Rally2 – +52.5
FIA World Rally Championship 3
It was tight at the top in the FIA World Rally Championship 3 as Yohan Rossel held an overnight lead of just 2.2 seconds from Kajetan Kajetanowicz. The Frenchman lead from the beginning of the rally until the seventh stage where Kajetanowicz took the lead by only 0.1 seconds. A response saw Rossel take 2.3 out of his rival on the final stage, to get back into the lead.
There was a three way scrap for the final podium position, with Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhoff grabbing the position by just 0.6 seconds from Emil Lindholm. Nicolas Ciamin was just a further 2.2 seconds behind in fifth. Briton Chris Ingram was sixth overall in his return to competing on the world stage, but over a minute off the lead.
Top 3 Overall
- Yohan Rossel – Citroen C3 Rally 2 – 59:57.2
- Kajetan Kajetanowicz – Skoda Fabia evo Rally2 – +2.2
- Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhoff – Ford Fiesta Rally2 – +27.9