A step into the unknown is always refreshing in any kind of sport, so anticipation is rife this week ahead of the World Rally Championship’s first visit to Croatia.
Who will be the crew to beat? And which team will be on top? We’re about to find out.
But in case you’re an avid fantasy WRC player or have a wager to settle with your friends, allow DirtFish to help you out with this handy form guide ahead of the third round of the 2021 season to aid you in reaching a conclusion for yourself.
As Croatia currently has no WRC history, we have instead examined each driver’s most recent asphalt results – including the Monte Carlo and Monza Rallies (despite them featuring plenty of wintry sections) as without them we would be stretching back to 2019 and potentially beyond in all cases which isn’t entirely representative of current performance levels.
#1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 20th-1st-1st
Last 3 asphalt results: 1st-1st-2nd
The seven-time champion has told DirtFish he is happy to be heading to Croatia third in the standings, going as far as calling leading the championship “pointless” at this early stage despite his usual narrative of preferring to always have points in the bag.
No matter, Ogier heads to Croatia with a fairly strong hand to play. Arctic Rally Finland was disappointing, but it was always going to be given his difficult road position. In Croatia, Ogier can just drive and remind everyone (as if it’s needed) just how good he is.
He has decent pedigree on brand-new rallies too having won the Monza Rally to clinch that seventh title plus got podiums in Estonia and Chile too, two other recent fresh challenges in the WRC.
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 39th-16th-7th
Last 3 asphalt rallies: 16th-5th(WRC2)-10th(WRC2)
When it comes to examining form, it’s hard to think of a driver who is in a poorer vein of it than Pierre-Louis Loubet. Ever since he made his World Rally Car bow on last year’s Rally Estonia, things haven’t quite strung together for the Corsican with mechanical dramas and a few too many driver errors restricting him to just one points finish in Sardinia last year.
Loubet has had plenty of asphalt experience in the i20 Coupe WRC with Rally di Roma last year and then Sanremo earlier this month where he finished second and third respectively. With just 10 top-flight cars competing in Croatia, Loubet will be aiming to score some solid championship points.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 1st-DNF-2nd-
Last 3 asphalt results: DNF-2nd-DNF
It might have been two months ago, but Ott Tänak starts Rally Croatia as the most recent WRC winner and there’s nothing to suggest he can’t repeat the trick this week either.
Tänak is potent on all surfaces and is incredibly adept at conquering new events. Remember Ogier’s record of first, third and second? Tänak’s reads first, second, first and first from Arctic, Monza, Estonia and Chile.
In a season where fortunes have massively swung between Toyota and Hyundai already, perhaps the success of the 2019 world champion’s weekend could depend on the performance of his i20 Coupe WRC in relation to the Yaris.
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 3rd-3rd-DNF
Last 3 asphalt results: 3rd-DNF-1st
It’s hard to nail down a favorite for Rally Croatia given the lack of recent, pure asphalt, competition and the fact this is a brand-new event in the world championship, but it’s hard to look beyond Thierry Neuville as a serious contender.
Much of the talk around Neuville this season has centered on new co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe and how that relationship is working, which has actually somewhat detracted from what has been some quietly brilliant driving from Neuville thus far. Two podiums from two starts in a compromised situation represents very strong form indeed.
In the WRC’s hiatus Neuville has barely been out of the car, testing regularly and contesting – and winning – two rallies in Italy. Starting second on the road could be ideal for avoiding too much road pollution too, so expect Neuville to be fighting at the front in Zagreb.
#16 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (Ford Fiesta WRC)
Last 3 WRC results (all WRC2): 9th-2nd-4th
Last 3 asphalt results (all WRC2): 2nd-4th-2nd
The newbie in the pack, Adrien Fourmaux makes his first World Rally Car start in the WRC, displacing Teemu Suninen in one of M-Sport’s two Ford Fiesta WRCs. But the affable Frenchman has already driven the car on asphalt in competition, winning the Rallylegend event towards the end of last year.
Of course, Fourmaux is still considerably less experienced than those he’ll be fighting with but coming into this event with some tangible experience puts him in a much better place than he otherwise would have been.
He has been one of the quickest drivers in WRC2 of late, but it remains to be seen how he can adapt to the WRC machine against serious competition. Fourmaux could be an outside bet for a solid haul of points though if he manages to get to grips quickly and others fall by the wayside.
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th-6th-20th
Last 3 asphalt results: 6th-20th-7th
In stark contrast to similar junior driver Loubet, Takamoto Katsuta is currently in the form of his life. The powerstage win to conclude the 2020 season was the perfect springboard for 2021 as the Japanese scored his best-ever WRC result on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally and repeated the feat one round later on Arctic Rally Finland.
It could be a tough ask for Katsuta to continue the trend in Croatia, but don’t count him out by any means. Working closer with Toyota test driver and multiple rallying champion Juho Hänninen this year appears to be paying dividends already as Katsuta looks more assured, more confident and therefore more complete behind the wheel.
The speed has always been there in glimpses, and now the consistency is creeping in too. If others are caught out and Katsuta keeps his head, his Yaris WRC could become a major feature this week.
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th-2nd-29th
Last 3 asphalt results: 2nd-29th-3rd
Croatia is a big event for Elfyn Evans. Arctic Rally Finland was arguably his most uninspiring performance yet in Toyota colors – which speaks volumes about his superb start to life in a Yaris WRC – and he needs a strong reply to prove he is still very much a serious title contender.
A lot will be expected of him too given his asphalt prowess in M-Sport Fiestas. Corsica immediately springs to mind with Evans’ breakthrough podium in 2015 and the win that never was in 2019 when a powerstage puncture robbed him of the victory. And there’s been more than a few suggestions that the Croatian stages resemble those of Corsica in places…
All the elements should be in place for Evans to fly this week. It’s then a question of whether he will be flying above or below his rivals.
#42 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 4th-2nd-7th
Last 3 asphalt results: 9th-7th-9th
For the first time in three years, Breen starts back-to-back WRC events this week, even if the last rally was two months ago and he’s squeezed two Italian rallies in an i20 R5 in between Arctic and Croatia.
Breen should be a strong contender this week, nonetheless. Why? He’s arguably an even better asphalt driver than he is a gravel driver, and he’s achieved some eye-catching gravel results so far in his short Hyundai career.
Although Breen has never started a WRC asphalt rally in an i20 Coupe WRC, that should be offset by the fact he did the Aarova Rally last fall on what was supposed to be a warm-up for Ypres Rally which eventually never happened.
Breen will be going some to better his two most recent results of fourth and second in Arctic and Estonia, but he absolutely has all the tools at his disposal to do just that.
#44 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (Ford Fiesta WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 9th-8th-DNF
Last 3 asphalt results: 8th-DNF-DNF
Can Chris Patterson turn things around for Gus Greensmith? The Northern Irishman hasn’t competed since 2018 but the impact an experienced hand can have on a struggling young driver can be profound.
Greensmith has already admitted as such, confessing he “can already see that experience coming to the fore with ideas and suggestions about what we can do to improve.”
Croatia could be a tricky start to the new relationship but realistically should present a golden opportunity for the pair with Patterson able to write his own notes from scratch and Greensmith able to compete on a leveller playing field with his inexperience, in theory, unable to hamper him on a brand-new event.
#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd-4th-5th
Last 3 asphalt results: 4th-5th-5th
And finally, the championship leader. What can Kalle Rovanperä do on Rally Croatia?
It’s quite a tricky one to call. While the 20-year-old is happiest on lightning-quick gravel stages, we are yet to see him on a pure asphalt rally in a World Rally Car. His form in WRC2 doesn’t provide the most optimism, but the top tier is a different ball game.
One key advantage Rovanperä could have is road position. As the first man onto Friday’s eight stages, he could face the best of the conditions if the cuts prove to be deep. While a little bit of loose gravel or mud – referred to by the drivers as pollution – doesn’t sound like much, tackling the corners without that could increase Rovanperä’s apex speed and help him gain valuable time.
But having said all of that, it could be a slight surprise to see Rovanperä’s name still atop the championship table come Sunday given the strength of his rivals and the closeness of the competition.
Keep an eye on DirtFish and all our social media channels for the most comprehensive Rally Croatia coverage this week.
We’ll have reports on each stage, all the latest news and regular insights from Colin Clark and David Evans.
Once the powerstage is complete, we’ll have in-depth analysis of how the event was won, discussion of all the weekend’s biggest talking points as well as our driver ratings.
And tantalizingly, we’ll also be covering the latest round of the American Rally Association National season – the DirtFish Olympus Rally – too making this weekend an epic double header of unmissable rallying action!