What do I know about Croatia? Beyond the fact that it’s a beautiful country just across the water from Venice, my knowledge doesn’t extend too much further than its 2018 World Cup squad, Chicago Bulls’ star Toni Kukoč, and the only wildcard ever to win Wimbledon Goran Ivanišević. That’s it.
Or it was it. Now I know the nation’s first ever World Rally Championship round will include 22 stages and around 200 miles of competition when it kicks off on Thursday April 22.
Formerly run out of Porec and Rijeka, the nation’s first WRC round takes Croatia’s biggest motorsport event back to the capital of Zagreb. Based out of Zagreb Fair (an exhibition center-type complex), crews will face three days of asphalt rallying through Karlovac County, Zagreb County and Krapina-Zagorje County.
DirtFish understands the FIA is inspecting the stages for the third round of the WRC – which is also the Junior WRC opener – next week.
Until now feedback is short on what’s coming for the April event.
Asked what he knew about Rally Croatia, championship leader Sébastien Ogier told DirtFish: “I know where Croatia is, that’s it! I’m looking forward [to it] because there’s many beautiful places in this country and I’ve never had a chance to go there.”
M-Sport team principal Richard Millener added: “We’ve had a lot coming through from Croatia now. We’ve seen some videos of the stages and the service park. The stages look quite fast and quite smooth.
“It’ll be a challenge, for sure. I think the extra challenge there is it’ll be the first proper rally on Tarmac on Pirellis. So even what we’ve learned with these extra tire [test] days in Monte Carlo, it probably won’t transfer to Croatia because temperatures are going to be totally different, roads are totally different.
“We’ll need to use some more of those [nine additional] test days to prepare for that.”
President of the organizing committee Daniel Šaškin is understandably excited about the WRC’s arrival in Croatia and said his team of rally officials is ready to hit the standards demanded by the FIA.
“By carefully selecting the members of the organizing committee,” said Šaškin, “we have created a team which will set new standards in following years by their knowledge and work. Our wish is that these standards meet those of the world’s most prestigious races.
“The recipe is simple: a combination of youth and experience guarantees us fresh, but also tested ideas in one place. As co-organizers we will pay special attention to safety. Of the spectators in the first place, but of the crews as well.
“We believe that our efforts will be recognized by the drivers and the spectators, but also the population of Croatia. Their mutual satisfaction is our main goal and it could not be accomplished without the help of partners and the local community.
“We consider Rally Croatia to be an event that will serve to honor all of Croatia and become a great promotion of its natural beauty as well as the cultural and historical heritage.”
The Zagreb-based third round runs from April 22-25.