Neuville leads Toyota pair after opening Croatia loop

Road order advantage crucial as Hyundai driver opens 8.6-second lead over Evans


World Rally Championship points leader Thierry Neuville holds an 8.6-second lead over Toyota’s Elfyn Evans after the first morning of Rally Croatia, having won three of the first four stages.

Running first on the road is a known benefit in Croatia, avoiding the worst of the mud that gets dragged onto the stages as each car passes through.

That naturally helped the title contenders break away at the front; Neuville, first on the road, was the biggest beneficiary of all, though even he wasn’t happy at how conservative he was having to drive.

“I can’t attack,” said Neuville at the end of the Platak stage. “I have to be so smooth and clean. There’s no way for me to push, otherwise it doesn’t work. I would like to go a bit faster but it is what it is. It’s still tricky conditions so I try to be as careful as I can.”

Evans went for a slightly different tire strategy than Neuville, bringing an even split of soft and hard tires into his selection while the Hyundais had predominantly taken softs – or in Ott Tänak’s case, softs only.


Evans denied Neuville a clean-sweep of fastest times through Friday morning

Toyota’s lead contender for the drivers’ championship took 1.7s out of Neuville by winning the Jaškovo test but was otherwise outpaced by Neuville, though indicated his tire choice for the morning loop was “fine” regardless.

One of the few drivers to punch above their road order position was eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier. Having only competed on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, he had to start sixth on the road but still managed to make third place his own, 12.9s shy of Evans but well clear of Tänak behind.

“I think I can be happy with my loop,” said Ogier. “Like expected, we lost some ground but hopefully it will be better in the afternoon.”

Tire management had been a factor for many drivers, including Ogier himself: “Soft was definitely the wrong choice [on Platak] but I’m happy with my mixed choice this morning, yeah.”

It was more troublesome for Adrien Fourmaux, who had been trying to keep pace with Tänak in the battle for fourth place. By the end of the loop the M-Sport man was 4.3s behind the second Hyundai.


Lead M-Sport driver Fourmaux was happy with his driving

“I have done a really good stage but with the tires I had, I cannot do any more,” said Fourmaux after Platak. “We definitely needed some hards for this.”

Takamoto Katsuta is already well adrift of the top five, ending the Friday morning loop half a minute behind the lead M-Sport car. Andreas Mikkelsen also struggled through the morning in seventh; he’s 26.9s behind Katsuta, not helped by overshooting a junction on the day’s opening stage.

“The car is not easy to drive,” admitted Mikkelsen. “I’m fighting.”

Grégoire Munster brings up the rear of the Rally1 field in eighth place: “In general the road position is just crazy,” he said. “I’ve never seen that on Tarmac.”

Both Ford Pumas have a newly homologated rear wing design being debuted in Croatia – but Munster admitted he hadn’t been able to leverage the benefits just yet.

“I was too gentle,” said Munster of his cornering. “The car could handle it.”


Gryazin has been in commanding form in WRC2

Nikolay Gryazin dominated the first morning of WRC2 action, building a 12.4s lead over his Citroën team-mate Yohan Rossel.

That comes despite a road-order disadvantage; Rossel opened the road for the Rally2 field as championship leader Oliver Solberg is not present in Croatia, yet Gryazin still managed to win three of the opening four stages regardless.

There was a hairy moment for Rossel in the final section of the Jaškovo test, as he landed awkwardly from a jump and went off through some long grass, though mercifully made his way back to the road with no damage and only a few seconds lost.

“Normally I am a bit slow on the jump but before that you have a compression,” explained Rossel. “It was a very hard moment; I’m happy to be here!”

Gus Greensmith completes the podium positions, 12.7s behind Rossel’s Citroën C3 Rally2. He won’t score points for his drivers’ championship chase but despite being in third place, he doesn’t regret his choice: “No, no no, that would mean I’m losing 10 points,” he said.

Fellow non-scorer Sami Pajari is fourth in the lead Toyota GR Yaris Rally2, 37.3s from the lead. Pepe López, who effectively holds third when it comes to WRC2 points in Croatia, is 9.3s behind Pajari in fifth.