What have I let myself in for? David Evans and I were supposed to share this driver ratings column in the absence of Colin Clark at last weekend’s Croatia Rally, but he backed out at the last minute.
It’s therefore up to me to rank the performances of all 11 Rally1 drivers on round three of the 2022 World Rally Championship. How spectacularly wrong have I got it? Let us know in the comments section below.
Kalle Rovanperä 9/10
Croatia Rally result: 1st
This wasn’t a rally Rovanperä was supposed to excel on. Down on experience due to his first stage crash last year and heading into the weekend with a 14-point lead to protect, the assumption was that he would play the numbers game.
He did, just not the particular game we were expecting. Leading by over a minute after the first day just doesn’t happen in the WRC’s modern era and yet that’s exactly what Rovanperä managed.
It all fell apart a little on Saturday with a puncture and then a retrospectively bad tire call for the wet penultimate stage on Sunday that cost him his lead. But Rovanperä hit back emphatically to destroy Ott Tänak in a final stage shootout and claim what he regards as his toughest win to date and rightfully so given his back was against the wall.
However that tire call that ultimately left him exposed is what costs him the maximum score here.
Elfyn Evans 7/10
Croatia Rally result: 5th
A quietly effective weekend for Elfyn Evans wasn’t really what he needed to reinvigorate his title chase; a massive statement of intent and clear victory would’ve been better. But fifth was realistically the best he could do in context.
One of several drivers to puncture, Evans was particularly unfortunate as his came on the very first stage, immediately dropping him to 1m20s behind the leader which was going to be near-impossible to make up.
Knowing that he needed to bank his first proper points haul of the year, Evans won some stages but, aside from a poor tire choice to take five hards on the final day, kept himself out of any mischief and opted for caution over bravery – a sensible decision and well-executed plan he could well thank himself for later in the season.
Esapekka Lappi 3/10
Croatia Rally result: 49th
There’s less pressure on Esapekka Lappi to deliver the big results given the strength of his team-mates and his status as a part-timer this year, but what happened on SS1 was pretty shocking for a driver of his caliber.
Simply turning his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 into a right-hander too early, Lappi snagged a rock and damaged his car too much to continue. Embarrassing to say the least.
But Lappi’s turnaround was encouraging. Quickest on four stages throughout the weekend (albeit running in the advantageous position of first on the road), he struggled at times but didn’t wilt under the pressure of needing to make no further errors.
That saves his score a bit, however the takeaway is frustrating as we’re simply left wondering what he might have been able to do without that SS1 disaster.
Takamoto Katsuta 6/10
Croatia Rally result: 6th
Takamoto Katsuta openly admitted he was glad that the rally was over when he made it to the post-event media zone. Sixth overall was far from his most electrifying result to date, but it was a well-judged performance.
Two punctures cost him, and his overall deficit to the winner in excess of eight minutes doesn’t exactly flatter him, but his event was largely hard to remember. And that’s a good thing, because it means he didn’t make any blunders.
Katsuta is still very much refining his craft in the WRC, so the last thing he needed was to throw it off the road. He didn’t, and he’s now a solid sixth in the championship as a consequence of that patience.
Thierry Neuville 1/10
Croatia Rally result: 3rd
From a purely sporting perspective, this one is extremely harsh. Thierry Neuville was arguably the driver of the weekend on the stages – certainly worthy of more than third place as he set some unbelievable times that yet again showed his unwavering grit and determination to achieve.
But this was an extremely messy weekend for both Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe, from the rather questionable jinking onto a slip road off a public highway to the powerstage crash (that he was lucky to emerge from) but most pertinently the €1900 fine, one-minute time penalty and two days of public service duty for excessive road section speeding.
The big concern, at least for me, is the reasoning Neuville gives for his decision. He felt he was “obliged to overspeed” on his way to first service after running late in a bid to overcome his alternator problem, and that his speed wasn’t a major issue as the road was clear of traffic.
It’s naive at absolute best, incredibly arrogant at worst, but it’s not even the first time he’s done it – remember Estonia last year when he was driving at full pelt to make a stage on time?
There’s an element of regulatory failure here as the punishment given (the time penalty) clearly doesn’t quite fit the crime, otherwise Neuville would think twice about such a decision. But this is clearly no coincidence, and you just have to hope the penny drops soon before something serious happens.
Ott Tänak 8/10
Croatia Rally result: 2nd
For most of Croatia Rally, Ott Tänak was forced to play third-best to Rovanperä and Neuville, so probably never expected to be a factor in the victory battle when he ended Friday almost 90s shy of the lead.
But a superb Saturday, where he absolutely aced the tire call (along with Rovanperä) to run with wets in his package, brought him into play – and Rovanperä’s puncture closed proceedings right up.
An even better rubber decision on the final day, where Tänak took a mixture of softs and wets, proved to be an inspired gamble and almost earned him an unexpected win. Ultimately he missed out, but this was a good reminder that Tänak has lost absolutely none of the talent that carried him to the 2019 world title.
Oliver Solberg 3/10
Croatia Rally result: DNF
We all know the dramatic and unfortunate circumstances in which this one ended – the rear of Oliver Solberg’s Hyundai i20 N Rally1 parked backwards into a tree and on fire. But it can’t be forgotten that this was a mistake of Solberg’s own doing.
The penalty he paid for the foul feels a bit unfair as the error he made wasn’t catastrophic, so the end result was quite a hard lesson. But Solberg had played himself into the rally nicely, lying fifth after day one and with a cautious approach but then threw it all away.
It’s a frustrating retirement considering the positive momentum he needed to build on from Rally Sweden. Disastrous; not quite, but Solberg garnered a bit of a reputation in 2021 for crashing and two errors from the first three rallies (albeit one when compromised with smoke infiltrating the cockpit on the Monte) won’t help repair that image.
Craig Breen 7/10
Croatia Rally result: 4th
A slightly off-color weekend for Craig Breen who, on paper at least, turned in a decent result with fourth that was tinged by the reality of losing a podium spot on the final day to Neuville.
Breen was impressively never outside the top four for the entirety of the rally but equally never looked like a huge podium threat on pace alone. That’s not necessarily to his discredit – Croatia was a rally to be careful on – but there were a few small errors that crept in.
Championship-wise it vaults him up to third, a career high, but he still has less than half the haul of leader Rovanperä. You sense that Breen will need to make good of the pace of his Ford Puma Rally1 soon and win a rally if he wants to be considered a real contender for the title.
Gus Greensmith 6/10
Croatia Rally result: 15th
Gus Greensmith’s run of fifth place finishes came to end in Croatia, but there were plenty of positives to draw from the performance.
His first stage was a bit scrappy when he locked up the brakes and understeered into the bank at a tight hairpin, impressively escaping any drama. And his weekend was ruined when he had to pull up on the way to service after the final stage of the day as he had too many punctured tires to legally continue.
However the ability to just shrug that off and not get frustrated on Saturday, coupled with a brace of top-three stage times, represented another solid weekend for Greensmith.
He’s lost a bit of ground in the championship, falling from fourth to seventh, but that could ironically play to his advantage on his favorite event – Rally Portugal – in just under four weeks.
Adrien Fourmaux 1/10
Croatia Rally result: DNF
Zero points from three starts in a Rally1 car is a pretty dire return for a driver that should have been making big and important strides in his first full season in top-class machinery.
The Sweden retirement wasn’t Adrien Fourmaux’s fault as the car let him down, and before then although his pace was unspectacular he was fulfilling his pre-event mission of simply avoiding trouble.
But another early exit from an asphalt event he could well have performed extremely well on will be testing M-Sport’s patience massively.
Fourmaux felt the team’s warning to him, following Neuville’s wild moment on the corner that he ultimately went off at, wasn’t clear enough – and perhaps he has a point. But Fourmaux was still told to be aware on the first half of the stage and was simply caught out.
Every young driver tends to suffer a blip like this, but Fourmaux has to start showing that he has learned from his mistakes in order to progress.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 6/10
Croatia Rally result: 47th
The feeling of being parked up and put into retirement is all too familiar for Pierre-Louis Loubet, so it wasn’t great that he kickstarted his M-Sport Ford career in this exact way. A total of three punctures across the first two stages meant he ran out of usable tires on Friday.
But it’s hard to ridicule Loubet for this, instead it’s to his credit how he dealt with it. It would’ve been easy to crumble, but he kept his head down and built up his odometer in the Puma.
Earning his first top-three stage time was a nice confidence boost and he appeared to be very at home in his new surroundings. Not a vintage performance, but a hugely important one that Loubet can build on in his quest to reinvent his WRC career.