World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä has bemoaned the “impossible” grip changes before he rolled his Toyota Yaris WRC on the opening stage of Rally Croatia.
Rovanperä was opening the road as the points leader for first time in his top-flight career on Croatia’s opening 4.31-mile Rude – Plešivica test when he lost the car on the entry to a high-speed right-hander.
His Yaris rolled down the banking and nestled itself into a tree. Rovanperä and his co-driver Jonne Halttunen emerged unhurt, but the car was unable to return for Friday morning’s remaining stages.
Rovanperä’s sole split time proved to be the quickest of the stage, but it was of little consolation for the 20-year-old, who said he was caught out by the surprising grip changes.
“The first stage was really difficult, and everybody was really surprised by the grip level,” Rovanperä told DirtFish.
“[The grip level] was really low and changing a lot. I was struggling with the understeer of the car the whole stage before [the crash].
“Then on the last downhill, we knew it was slippery, but it was all the time, getting better or worse, always changing.
“And in this one corner, I just came in too fast and the understeer didn’t help me because I didn’t get into the racing line at all. We just went out from the racing line.”
Rovanperä was perplexed by the grip changes at the corner, which also almost caught out his Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier, who escaped with just a puncture.
“There is no clear explanation for why the grip is changing so much,” Rovanperä added.
“We also saw that the Tarmac looks the same as other corners but it’s really slippery. But difficult to know, Seb was also really close but it’s good that he didn’t follow us.
“The pacenotes was OK, but the grip level was changing so much. And you cannot see it, it’s impossible. Very slippery.”
Rovanperä’s surprise at the lack of grip on Croatia’s Friday morning stages was echoed by his rivals, including the current rally leader Thierry Neuville, who won three of the four tests.
“Obviously the feeling was good,” Neuville said of the opening loop.
“Immediately we were able to start on a good rhythm. I felt comfortable despite some tricky conditions out there this morning.
“We had to take advantage of our road position on stage one and stage two, which obviously worked quite well.
“And in the two last stages we just tried to keep it smooth and tidy, but there were a couple of surprises where the grip suddenly was gone – I don’t know where, but it wasn’t there anymore, and we went a bit wide here and there [and] lost a few tenths but in general we had a good approach and it paid off.”