Neuville takes early Croatia lead

Hyundai driver maximizes road position advantage to lead Evans and Ogier after first stage

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Thierry Neuville has capitalized on his optimal road position on Rally Croatia to take an early lead on the fourth round of the World Rally Championship season.

Croatia’s asphalt roads are notorious for their slippery nature, amplified by the effect of cuts dragging mud onto the road.

That played nicely into the hands of championship leader Neuville, who won the Krašić-Sošice stage by 6.6 seconds from Elfyn Evans.

“I had hell of [a lot of] understeer,” said Neuville. “The grip was much lower than I expected. It felt like the tire was overheating after three kilometers. Back into the rhythm on these roads, it feels slow because it was so slippery.”

Evans and his Toyota team-mates had taken a more conservative tire selection than their rivals, taking more hard compound Pirellis than the Hyundai or M-Sport drivers.

Evans admitted his choice had been “brave” but he still comfortably beat the rest of the field; he was 7.9s faster than his world champion team-mate Sébastien Ogier in third.


Ogier was one of the few to improve on his road position

“There’s not much we can do,” Ogier lamented, reaching the finish with a slow puncture on the front-right tire of his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1. “Much too dirty road, so we do what we can. Of course it’s not possible to match the times from the guys in front.”

Ott Tänak was fourth-fastest, 17.8s off his Hyundai team-mate Neuville’s benchmark time. He was the fourth car on the road but complained there was “so much mud already” and felt that his car was behaving nervously.

M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux completes the top five, 20.4s off the pace as he struggled with overheating tires. Takamoto Katsuta in the third Toyota was a further 16s back in sixth, feeling he couldn’t trust the information from his route note crew and had to “see the road myself”.

“Every corner I’m losing time,” Katsuta admitted.

Andreas Mikkelsen is already 50.7s off the top spot in seventh; he lost time when he overshot a junction and had to reverse out, which subsequently killed his rhythm.

Grégoire Munster is ninth overall, behind WRC2 leader Nikolay Gryazin, going 58s slower than Neuville: “My god, the road position is crazy in this one,” he said.

“For sure I didn’t have the good tire option for this one. But really amazing how much dirt there is on the road, I already see lines everywhere, so just trying to keep it on the road. With the cars in front, the road is evolving too much and basically nothing is what the gravel crew said.”

Citroën factory driver Gryazin went fastest in WRC2 by a massive 10.8s ahead of team-mate Yohan Rossel, which he said was part of his “strategy”; he’d taken soft tires all round for the first stage of the day.

Toksport’s Gus Greensmith completes the Rally2 podium places despite backing off late on the test, having feared there was a slow puncture after his a rim started to vibrate. Neither he nor Sami Pajari in fourth, 3.8s behind Greensmith, are registered for points this weekend.