Rovanperä races away on first day of Croatia Rally

Toyota's points leader won six stages out of eight on Friday, with Neuville beating him on the last one


Thierry Neuville has claimed his first stage victory of Croatia Rally, closing the gap to leader Kalle Rovanperä to a sizeable 1m04s at the end of day one.

Neuville was clearly attacking the Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novak test with more aggression than his Toyota rival and it paid off, finishing the stage 2.8 seconds quicker than Rovanperä.

It was the clearest proof yet that Neuville could have been fighting for the rally win had he not been handed a 40s penalty after SS4 for arriving late to service, but he’s now concentrating on keeping his rhythm for the remaining 16 stages.

“The stage was OK. Nice and clean run,” Neuville said.

“After the mistake there was no reason for us anymore to push very hard and we need to keep in the rhythm. That’s the only thing we can do.”


His Hyundai team-mate Ott Tänak is third, but M-Sport’s Craig Breen will go into the second day of the rally still in contention to fight the pair for a podium place.

Breen was 12.2s slower than Neuville on the Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički stage, and was 9.4s down on Tänak which means he is now 11.9s behind.

Tänak’s stage time was also impressive, given he confirmed afterwards that he had lost his hybrid power during Friday’s action.

“I had a hybrid issue again, so I lost hybrid. But otherwise I think from where we are coming, it’s not so bad,” said Tänak of his day.

“I think we’ve done an OK day. Unfortunate for the hybrid, but otherwise that was really the maximum we could do.”

Stéphane Lefebvre

But the real star of the stage was WRC2 driver Stéphane Lefebvre.

Despite having inferior machinery, Lefebvre managed to set the seventh quickest stage time overall, just 19.5s slower than Neuville.

That was enough to lift him up to 14th overall, but he’s still some way behind the WRC2 leaders.

Oliver Solberg also had another promising stage, as he builds up his confidence around the roads of Croatia in his Hyundai i20 N Rally1.

He arrived with no experience of the rally, and was using the weekend as a learning exercise, but despite that, he still set the fourth fastest stage time to end the day fifth overall.

Elfyn Evans remains sixth, just over 10s behind Solberg, and he’s followed by Toyota team-mate Takamoto Katsuta and M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith whose eventful day got even harder on Friday’s final stage.


Greensmith picked up two punctures on the 5.66-mile test, and he was also convinced that he had a driveshaft issue to go with it.

Those issues left him 25.5s off the pace, while Katsuta was in the same boat and came in 28.8s slower than Neuville having picked up a front-left puncture.

Yohan Rossel has maintained his WRC2 lead going into Saturday. He sits 36.3s ahead of Nikolay Gryazin, with Eric Camilli a further 22.9s behind in third and chasing a top 10 position overall.

Robert Virves leads the WRC3 classification by just 0.7s over Sami Pajari, having gone into the day’s final stage 10.4s ahead.

SS8 times

1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 5m27.9s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +2.8s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3.6s
4 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai) +4.6s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +7.6s
6 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +12.2s
7 Stéphane Lefebvre/Andy Malfoy (Citroën) +19.5s
8 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda) +22.0s
9 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Škoda) +25.5s
10 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +25.5s

Leading positions after SS8

1 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) 1h15m35.5s
2 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m04.0s
3 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) +1m23.3s
4 Breen/Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +1m35.2s
5 Solberg/Edmondson (Hyundai) +2m38.5s
6 Evans/Martin (Toyota) +2m49.1s
7 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +3m28.0s
8 Greensmith/Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +3m39.6s
9 Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud (Citroën) +5m12.6s
10 Gryazin/Aleksandrov (Škoda) +5m48.9s