Rally Croatia leader Sébastien Ogier was involved in an incident on the road section before Sunday’s opening stage, which was won by his Toyota team-mate and closest challenger Elfyn Evans.
Footage seen by DirtFish shows the seven-time World Rally Champion colliding with another car while on his way to SS17, leaving his Yaris WRC with visible damage down its right-hand side.
— dirtfishrally (@DirtFishRally) April 25, 2021
Ogier still completed the stage but there is the possibility his car could be inspected by the FIA.
The relevant regulation states: “Various checks on safety items, including drivers’ clothing, as well as on the car, on the conformity and eligibility may be carried out at any time during the rally including shakedown at the sole discretion and upon the instruction of the FIA technical delegate, with the knowledge of the stewards.”
Ogier led Evans by 6.9s after Saturday, but the 2020 WRC runner-up capitalized on Ogier’s misfortune to deliver a timely third stage win of the weekend on the 15.65-mile Bliznec – Pila test – the longest of the rally.
It allowed Evans to cut the gap to Ogier to just 4.2s as he goes in pursuit of his first win of the season, while Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville – the leader on Friday – has closed to within 10s of Ogier.
The stage ended with a downhill descent after running through the mountain roads, a section that caused many drivers to be self-critical, including the rally leader.
“The downhill was slippery and it’s true that I was not really driving well downhill,” Ogier admitted.
Neuville was second fastest on the stage and reduced the gap to Ogier by 1.3s, so that now only 9.1s covers the top three drivers with three stages remaining.
SS17 suggested that fourth-place Ott Tänak will not threaten the leading trio on Croatia’s final day, as the 2019 World Rally Champion set the seventh-fastest time, some 16.3 off Evans’s stage-winning effort. He is 42.3s off Neuville’s third place.
Top-flight WRC debutant Adrien Fourmaux recorded his eighth top-five stage time to further consolidate the M-Sport Ford driver’s impressive fifth place overall.
Takamoto Katsuta labeled his driving as “not good” on the stage, but his time was the fourth fastest and it moves him to within 10s of Fourmaux’s team-mate Gus Greensmith’s sixth-place.
“I’ve got an issue with the brakes, so I need to try and solve it,” a concerned Greensmith – who dropped 13s to Katsuta – said.
Hyundai’s Craig Breen was highly critical of his performance on Sunday’s opening stage as he fell a further 8.1s away from Katsuta. The gap stands at over a minute.
“One of the worst stages I’ve driven in my life,” Breen admitted. “I had no confidence at all.”
2C Competition Hyundai’s Pierre-Louis Loubet opened the road on his return to the rally following his crash on Saturday afternoon’s second test.
He was the slowest of the nine leading World Rally Cars as he awaits the powerstage – his last opportunity to score points this weekend.
Nikolay Gryazin set a blistering pace in WRC2, winning by 11.2s to record the biggest stage-winning margin of the weekend in the second tier.
The Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver is fighting back after losing almost a minute and a half with a powersteering issue on Saturday afternoon. His ninth stage win of the rally leaves him just 1.5s behind Teemu Suninen, who is sharing the second M-Sport Fiesta WRC with Fourmaux this year.
Suninen is 59.6s adrift of the class leader and defending series champion Mads Østberg, who said he did not have a “comfortable ride” on the stage because of suspected brake issues aboard his Citroën C3 Rally2.
Andreas Mikkelsen is over 40 minutes away from the lead in sixth place, having crashed his Škoda Fabia Rally2 on the rally’s second stage. He set the second-fastest time on SS17 but admitted on Saturday evening that his full focus is on scoring points on the powerstage.
In WRC3, Kajetan Kajetanowicz extended his advantage over Emil Lindholm to 50.9s. Both were beaten on the stage by the recovering Citroën driver Yohan Rossel, who claimed third place overall from Chris Ingram.
Having rolled on Saturday morning, erstwhile leader Rossel is still almost three minutes adrift of Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
Ingram is also under threat from another C3 Rally2 driver, as Nicolas Ciamin won the stage to move to just over 20s behind Ingram in fifth place.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +14m04.5s
2 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1.4s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +2.7s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +7.6s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +15s
6 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +15.7s
Leading positions after SS17
1 Ogier/Ingrassia 2h20m43s
2 Evans/Martin +4.2s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +9.1s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +51.4s
5 Fourmaux/Jamoul +1m41.8s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +2m41.7s
7 Katsuta/Barritt +2m51.4s
8 Breen/Nagle +4m04.8s
9 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +8m08.3s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +8m57.9s