Ogier clinches Croatia win after final day chaos

Taking advantage of mistakes from Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville helped Ogier to victory

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Sébastien Ogier scored the 100th podium finish of his World Rally Championship career by winning Rally Croatia, taking advantage of mistakes by Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans and championship leader Thierry Neuville.

Most of the rally had featured a duel for first place between Neuville and Evans, with the Hyundai driver appearing to have the edge into the final day.

But both drivers went off on the first pass of the Zagorska Sela test: Neuville overshot a corner and hit a bank, which he blamed on a late pacenote, while Evans over-rotated on a right-hander and clattered a bank, which spun him around but left no lasting damage.

The time loss from those incidents allowed Ogier to take the lead, which he successfully held on to for the final two stages to clinch a 59th career win, his first of the 2024 season.

Ogier’s rally wasn’t without incident either: on Saturday he’d come inches from oversteering into a fence, while on Sunday morning he understeered off up a bank but suffered no damage.

“It’s been a tough weekend,” said Ogier. “We knew coming here that start position wold be an issue. We never gave up, we put pressure as much as we could. It was an eventful weekend for us, I never had so many moments in one rally in my life. But most importantly we bring it home with a win.”

Ogier was also feeling somewhat sentimental at the finish, looking back on his storied career after scoring podium number 100: “It’s huge numbers. Who would have thought that 15 years ago? So I enjoy every moment, I enjoy every opportunity I have to still drive these cars. It’s nice to see that we still have some speed.”

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Sébastien Ogier was the center of attention by the final day of Rally Croatia

Evans clinched second place, 9.7s adrift of Ogier, though his earlier mistake meant his points haul took a hit: he added only three Sunday points and a sole powerstage point, meaning he scored 19 in total.

As for Neuville, his trip into a bank damaged his rear wing and caused further cosmetic wounds to his Hyundai i20 N Rally1; the wing damage left him unable to push on the final two stages, ceding any hopes of powerstage bonus points. Despite that, he also ended with 19 points, having banked the first 18 on Saturday while he was still leading the rally.

“It is what it is,” said Neuville at the finish. “We had a great few days but unfortunately today didn’t go so well. At the end we take important points.

“It should be 19 points from the weekend which isn’t so bad. We would have preferred to push harder on the powerstage but those cars without rear wings are undriveable.”

Despite finishing a fairly distant fourth Ott Tänak outscored both Evans and Neuville, and only one point shy of rally winner Ogier. He’d had a near-miss of his own on the same stage that had caught the leaders out, understeering off through a field but navigating back to the road in one piece.

It was Tänak’s Sunday performance that made the difference; second on Sunday and second on the powerstage added 10 points to his haul for a 20-point total.

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Fourmaux had been running second place in the Sunday classification before his impact with an anti-cut device

Adrien Fourmaux was lucky to even finish the rally at all. M-Sport’s team leader smashed into a concrete anti-cut marker on the first pass of Zagorska Sela and broke a steering arm, which he had to stop mid-stage to fix. A total of 15 minutes were lost but, such is the new points system, he still kept eight points in the bank and scored another five when he went fastest on the powerstage.

Takamoto Katsuta completed Croatia Rally in a lonely fifth place but, with the new Super Sunday points system in effect, was leading the line for Toyota on the final day. He went faster than anyone across the final day’s four stages to put seven points on the board, plus picked up another two for his efforts on the powerstage.

“For sure I’m pushing like hell to get points for the team,” Katsuta said at the end of the penultimate stage. “I did a quite s*** job in the last two days, so now I need to recover.”

Andreas Mikkelsen and Grégoire Munster finished sixth and seventh overall. Munster had achieved his objective of a clean, drama-free rally after three incidents in the first three rounds of the season, while Mikkelsen went off the road multiple times as he struggled to get on top of his Hyundai.

“I was expecting a lot better to be honest,” said Mikkelsen. “It has improved, today was not too bad. But I’m missing that really good feeling to push. Hopefully that will come.”

Nikolay Gryazin clinched victory in the WRC2 class and seventh place overall, defeating Citroën team-mate Yohan Rossel.

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Yohan Rossel pushed hard to catch his team-mate but he ran into too many problems to challenge Gryazin

Gryazin built a half-minute lead on Friday and though Rossel was rapid on Saturday, a puncture for the 2021 WRC3 champion and then a 10s penalty for a timecard mix-up simply cost too much time to try and fight back for the lead.

“I’m happy, it’s not bad,” said Rossel. “But the feeling is strange all the weekend. Lots of strategy mistakes with tire choices, with the driving, by the co-driver. But it’s like that. We are a team.”

When Fourmaux tumbled down the order with his long stop to fix a broken steering arm, it left Gus Greensmith and Sami Pajari to battle for the final place in the top 10 overall.

With both drivers not registered for WRC2 points it was simply a battle for honours between them. Pajari had lost 12.5s on the first pass of Zagorska Sela to put the chasing Toksport driver within reach but was able to do just enough to cling onto the position, despite clipping a bridge on the powerstage.

“I was pushing like crazy and we maybe hit one, two, however many stones but we made it through. I gave it everything,” said Pajari.

Greensmith had thrown the kitchen sink at trying to catch Pajari on the final stage: “Completely out of control for the entirety,” he said of his final-stage effort. “On the limit out of control. That was enjoyable!”

Pepe López picked up the third-placed points in WRC2, successfully fending off Nicolas Ciamin for fifth place among the Rally2 runners.