Tire strategy helps Evans to retake Croatia lead

Taking hard tires has backfired for several drivers as rain begins to fall in Croatia


A bold tire call from Toyota has paid dividends for Elfyn Evans, retaking first place on Rally Croatia as erstwhile leader Thierry Neuville struggled in wet conditions.

All three Toyotas took four soft tires for the opening stage with two wet-compound spares in the boot, while all the Hyundais and Adrien Fourmaux had two hards, two softs and two wets. Grégoire Munster in the second M-Sport car went even bolder and selected three hards, one soft and two wets.

That decision had consequences for those with hards in their package; Neuville struggled as the heavens began to open as he traversed the second pass of Smerovišće, struggling for grip with hards on the front axle.

In all Neuville lost 6.7s to Evans, enough to cede the lead to his World Rally Championship title rival by 2s.

“I pushed very hard and just tried to carry on,” said Neuville. “I knew we were losing time. I think we limited the time loss quite well.”

Sébastien Ogier lost a second to his team-mate but remains in touch with the lead fight, 7.6s off the top spot and only 5.6s behind Neuville.

Ott Tänak and Adrien Fourmaux in fourth and fifth place both struggled with their tire choices, with the M-Sport team leader especially vexed with the tyre selection call his team had made.

“I don’t understand how we can be so bad to find the tyre choice before the stages,” said Fourmaux at stage end. “We have a lot of data and we can;’t make a good tyre choice, It’s very disappointing.”

Takamoto Katsuta in the third Toyota benefitted from his tire selection to go fourth-fastest on SS13, though he has a 42.4s deficit to Fourmaux ahead and remains in sixth overall.

Tire choice dramas have also brought the WRC2 battle back to life. Nikolay Gryazin’s one-minute lead was cut to 39.8s by Citroën team-mate Yohan Rossel, as Gryazin struggled with hards on the front of his car as the rain started to fall more heavily.

“Live TV showed the stage was dry and we went with hard slicks,” explained Gryazin. “But in the middle it was full wet, unfortunately. I hoped it would be dry and this choice would pay off but it was wet and we lost a lot in the middle, I was understeering a lot.”

Georg Linnamaë retired from ninth place in WRC2 early on in SS13.