Tricky. If there’s one word that could have been used to predict what lies ahead on the World Rally Championship’s second visit to Croatia Rally, it’s tricky.
Last year’s debut event proved that this is no typical asphalt rally – the surface offering far less grip than you’d expect.
“I think it’s the most challenging asphalt event in the season,” last year’s third place finisher Thierry Neuville told a select group of media including DirtFish.
“Some stages look like a gravel stage on Tarmac, I mean from the vertical and the blind corners and the jumps as well. So it’s a real roller-coaster on Tarmac, and it’s a challenging one but I think also if everything works well it’s the nicest.”
A real challenge then, and that was in the dry. What happens when those stages become wet remains to be seen. Unfortunately for the drivers, that’s precisely what’s being predicted for Friday’s opening day of action.
“Ultimately it’s a tricky rally. We know even last year in the dry it was difficult to keep the car around the road. So I think the rain will definitely provide another challenge, but it will be the same for everyone,” offered M-Sport’s Craig Breen, who will be the fifth car onto the stages on Friday.
Road order could be a huge factor too, as the road is only likely to get muddier as each car passes through and drags more dirt onto the racing line.
“Perhaps the road order will make the job bigger on Friday, but let’s see,” Breen added. We’ll just try to do our best. Try to find the same feeling that we had during the test, which was really good and go from there.”
Already on recce the drivers have been practicing their lines and Elfyn Evans has noticed a lot of cutting “as always”. Rain is the last thing the Toyota driver needs as he starts all the way down in ninth.
“Inevitably it’s going to be difficult, but it’s not just the mud,” he explained. I think the surfaces are changing a lot as well [and] that can have a big influence on the grip available and that could change from corner to corner as well here.”
Adrien Fourmaux is in the same boat: “It will be really slippy I think, more than last year,” he said.
“We were discussing with drivers last year that if we were to aquaplane on this rally it will be a really tricky event, and I think it will be quite hard, for sure.
“There are a lot of cuts on the rally, and some are like gravel, so it’s maybe worse sometimes than the mud because it’s just like a lot of stones in the road.
“We will have also a lot of cuts with mud, for sure, and the mud will go onto the next corner etc, so it will just be lines of mud everywhere. So it will be really tricky, but there is nothing we can really do, it’s like that and we have to play with that.”
And with the conditions likely to be difficult for all of the drivers, Toyota team principal, Jari-Matti Latvala believes we could witness a number of mistakes on the rally.
“This is an area which is very difficult here if it rains because you can go in those cuts and they will turn out to be mud and that mud will come to the Tarmac and it can be getting quite sticky on the Tarmac and then it’s making the braking points difficult.
“It always means that you can see more mistakes from the drivers. It’s tricky for them, that is a tough challenge I must say. It’s not that enjoyable to drive, but it’s a bit like Monte Carlo then.
“You just need to be really patient and read the grip all the time and you rely quite a lot on your safety crews who are checking the road before and making the information to the notes about the cuts.”