2023 Croatia Rally Form Guide

The World Rally Championship returns to action in a sombre mood, but the rally goes ahead

Thierry Neuville

The World Rally Championship heads back on to asphalt for this week’s Croatia Rally. Mild weather meant that this year’s Monte Carlo Rally wasn’t quite its usual challenge, but Croatia still arguably represents the first conventional asphalt round of the championship – albeit not without its own potential pitfalls.

While the loss of Craig Breen will be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Hyundai has chosen to contest the rally in his honor with two cars carrying a special tribute livery.

So far this year, Sébastien Ogier has won both the rallies he has contested, while team-mates Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans are seeking their first win of the year.

The same is true of Hyundai pairing Thierry Neuville and Esapekka Lappi. A win for either would be particularly poignant this week.

Ott Tänak has already won in Sweden and, after narrowly losing out in Croatia last year, can he stand atop the podium again this weekend?

With the top of the championship so tight – five drivers are currently split by 12 points – the result here could be particularly important ahead of a run of gravel rallies where start position will be crucial.

Here’s DirtFish’s guide to Croatia Rally 2023:

Sebastien Ogier

#17 Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)

Last 3 WRC results: 1st-1st-4th
Best Croatia result: 1st (2021)

Sébastien Ogier is undefeated in Croatia: one start, one win. And his recent overall record is just as good: three wins from his last four starts. Without an early puncture on Rally Japan, maybe it could have been four in row?

Add that form to the fact that first on the road is usually the place to be for asphalt events, and the world championship leader – despite being on a part-program – must start as favorite for this week’s event.

Despite the win, Ogier may not have the best memories of his only previous outing in Croatia, after a run-in with police. And let’s not forget that this event wasn’t originally meant to be part of his 2023 schedule.

But, as the consummate professional, the eight-time world champion is hardly going to let either of those facts hold him back. Could another strong performance lead to an expanded program? Time will tell.

Thierry Neuville

#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)

Last 3 WRC results: 2nd-3rd-3rd
Best Croatia result: 3rd (2021 & 2022)

Consistently strong performances, with three consecutive podiums to start the year, have taken Thierry Neuville to second in the championship standings. And, let’s not forget, that means first of those expected to complete a full season.

Including the end of last year, Neuville has only finished off the podium once in the past seven WRC events – and that was a fourth position. That kind of form is what championships are made of. His asphalt form in particular is strong too, finishing first and second on the past two conventional sealed-surface events, Rally Japan and Rally Spain.

Third on each of the previous two editions of Croatia Rally, Neuville led the opening leg in 2021. Wrong tire choice put him on the back foot, but he still finished only 8.1 seconds behind winner Ogier. Last year was tougher as, after a strong start, a multitude of issues and penalties left him more than two minutes off the pace.

Starting just behind Ogier, the conditions Neuville faces are unlikely to be dramatically different. So if anyone can take the fight to the #17 Toyota, it could well be Neuville.

Kalle Rovanperä

#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)

Last 3 WRC results: 4th-4th-2nd
Best Croatia result: 1st (2022)

Kalle Rovanperä’s win on Croatia Rally last year was his first in the WRC on asphalt and dispelled any notion that he may not feel fully at home on the surface.

Rovanperä’s drive on the powerstage to overhaul Ott Tänak, having lost a chunk of time on the previous stage when the Toyota team was caught out by wet weather, has already become the stuff of legend. It was one of the standout performances of a title-winning season that featured many highlights.

Rovanperä had been leading the rally throughout, up until that penultimate stage, and how he would love to repeat that this week to kick-start his title defense.

To say he’s under pressure would be a massive exaggeration, but Rovanperä has not won any of the past five WRC events and, in fact, has only been on the podium twice in that time.

But, after consecutive fourth places in Sweden and México, he’s still only a point behind Neuville in the standings. A win this week would firmly stamp his authority back on the championship.


#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveojä (Ford Puma Rally1)

Last 3 WRC results: 9th-1st-5th
Best Croatia result: 2nd (2022)

A disappointing result for Ott Tänak in México, where turbo issues cost him a huge chunk of time on the opening day, may have slightly dampened the mood at M-Sport after the fantastic Rally Sweden win.

It also dropped Tänak to fourth in the standings, albeit only six points behind Neuville. With that comes what is likely to be a worse position on the road in Croatia this week.

While the Ford Puma Rally1 may not be quite where Tänak wants it yet, we know he can hustle a car as well as anyone. He had to do that last year in the Hyundai, and so nearly won the event.

Plenty of wet running as course car on the recent Rallye des Ardennes could prove helpful if it turns wet in Croatia again this week, but will it be enough to challenge for victory?

Elfyn Evans

#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)

Last 3 WRC results: 3rd-5th-4th
Best Croatia result: 2nd (2021)

A podium last time out on Rally México was Elfyn Evans’s first since the Ypres Rally last year so will provide a boost, even if only subconsciously, going into Croatia Rally.

Historically, Evans has gone well on asphalt rallies, and a strong showing on the Monte – which featured largely dry asphalt this year – suggested he’s been able to get more comfortable with the GR Yaris Rally1 in those conditions, despite a puncture costing him a podium.

He so nearly won Croatia Rally’s first WRC edition in 2021, before a mistake on the final corner let team-mate Ogier win by 0.6s. While that was gut-wrenching, he had proven that he was capable of winning the event.

Last year’s Croatia Rally proved to be frustrating when his hopes were ended when the rally had barely begun via a first-stage puncture. He didn’t enjoy the difficult conditions thereafter but still set a couple of fastest stage times.

Although he’s still well in the championship fight, Evans can’t really afford to drop too much further behind. He needs to be in the hunt this weekend and, with better luck than last year, he should be.

Esapekka Lappi

#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1)

Last 3 WRC results: DNF-7th-8th
Best Croatia result: 49th (2022)

Fantastic pace on Rally México, when he really took the fight to Ogier, demonstrated that Esapekka Lappi can win rallies this year.

It also showed that he wasn’t fazed by the misfortune that had cost him a strong result on Rally Sweden. That could be crucial, because crashing out of the lead in México could have knocked his confidence just as much as his pace boosted it.

Lappi’s only previous attempt at Croatia Rally didn’t go well in a Toyota last year. A first stage accident put him out for the day, and then there were a few spins after he restarted on day two.

So he lacks decent experience of the stages and doesn’t have a favorable road position. But equally, Lappi won’t really have any expectations on him either.

So while the event is likely to be very difficult for everyone in the Hyundai team, if Lappi can steer clear of trouble and bring the car home, he will have done a good job.

Takamoto Katsuta

#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1)

Last 3 WRC results: 23rd-DNF-6th
Best Croatia result: 6th (2021 & 2022)

Two consecutive disappointing events in Sweden and México leaves Takamoto Katsuta needing to reach for a reset button.

With Ogier in the Toyota line-up, there’s no pressure on Katsuta to be scoring manufacturers’ points so this week’s event should be all about getting a clean run and rebuilding some of the confidence he has lost.

Katsuta has been in similar positions before and bounced back to be the WRC’s most consistent driver last year.

His two previous starts on Croatia Rally have both brought steady runs to sixth place. Something similar this weekend could be just what he needs.

Ilija Ravlic

#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul (Ford Puma Rally1)

Last 3 WRC results: 27th-6th-DNF
Best Croatia result: 29th (2021)

Pierre-Louis Loubet’s time at M-Sport has shown a great deal of promise. He’s impressed his bosses with his pace, but equally he needs to start finishing more consistently.

So far in 2023, Loubet has had a tougher time on rallies where he has little experience, with a best result of sixth in Sweden. On his first attempt at Rally México, Loubet was forced out on both the first and second days after heavy impacts and suffered another off and a puncture on the final day, completing only 11 of the 22 stages.

Croatia Rally is the first event this year that Loubet has started more than once previously. On paper, his record there looks poor though, needing to restart the event on both occasions.

Last year, three punctures on the first two stages wrecked his chances and forced him out for the day. But there were some promising signs on his return, and at least he was able to build experience of most of the stages.

Like Katsuta, a clean run through the stages should be Loubet’s prime objective this weekend and, if he manages it, he might just snare a decent result.