The road from Rude to Plešivica is not one Kalle Rovanperä will forget for a while. The youngest ever World Rally Championship series leader coming into Croatia Rally, the 20-year-old was toppled in spectacular fashion in the hills to the west of Zagreb.
But what happened? How did it happen? Rovanperä’s not entirely sure.
What’s beyond question is that Rovanperä’s team-mate Sébastien Ogier came within two centimeters of following the #69 Toyota into the boonies.
It’s beyond question because Ogier told us. But he’s wrong. It was more like three centimeters. We know. We’ve been to the medium-speed right-hander high above the hamlet of Jurjevčani to investigate the corner that cost Toyota a third of its entry, and came so close to slashing the factory squad’s effort from three to one.
The straightforward answer to what caused the accident was, of course, the lack of adhesion between the car’s Pirelli tires and that particular stretch of mother earth. We know both Toyotas had at least some soft rubber on them, but still that corner on Friday morning got the better of them.
What was it?
It wasn’t just the Toyota drivers who suffered, M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith was at a loss to explain the Teflon nature of the asphalt too.
“The grip just went,” he said. “It was just a good job it hadn’t been raining – it would have been a nightmare in the wet.”
The asphalt itself is in very good condition, no more than a couple of years old. It was by no means the sort of shiny Tar we predicted would cause chaos earlier on the same stage. And nor was it age-old broken concrete, the sort of borderline gravel loose surface found elsewhere on the event. In all honesty, the surface of the road was entirely unspectacular and nothing to write home about.
Trees had been cut back from the side of the road on the approach and it’s possible there was some greenness in the surface. But nothing stood out.
There had been no cutting, it wasn’t that sort of corner and the road was dry when Rovanperä arrived, first on the road.
One thing’s for sure, the understeer that had plagued the car for the first four miles of this 4.31-mile test was still with Rovanperä when turned in. The car washed out to the left and shot off the road.
While the engineers were still downloading the data and assessing the damage, Jari-Matti Latvala offered DirtFish a best guestimate.
“It was a fourth-gear corner,” he said, “so we are looking at the car going off the road at around 100km/h [62mph].”
The black lines had faded through the day – and with another passing of the entire field – by the time we got there. But they were still there. And they always look haunting as the thing so obviously runs out of road.
The rubber wasn’t the only marker. There was a similarly sinister-looking scuff on the edge of the road where the sumpguard left its mark before the whole thing went ballistic.
The immediate drop off the road was approximately 10ft down into scrub. The car ran along the scrub at high speed before hitting a mound of earth that sent the Yaris skywards and towards the trees. Flying at head height (as long as your head’s somewhere north of 6ft) it then pinballed off a smaller tree before hitting and stopping against a much bigger one, flattening another beneath the car.
Staring up at the road from the Yaris WRC’s resting place is a mind-boggling moment.
The dawning reality of the car’s true trajectory was sobering, to say the least.
It was a big crash. But it was a big crash that, once again, demonstrated the strength of the modern World Rally Car. Drivers tend to prefer shunts that go on for a long time and this one would have rattled along for a while. The initial phase of the accident wouldn’t have dissipated much energy, however; the car wasn’t exactly cutting a swathe through smaller trees. It was the final two trees that brought it to its standstill.
On first inspection, the thinking was that the score mark down the edge of the road was actually caused by the left-side sill of Ogier’s car as he danced with the devil on the very edge of oblivion six minutes later. The slap taken by the left-rear corner of the Yaris as it regained the road must have been what took the tire off the rim.
It wasn’t. Further down the road, 20ft on from Rovanperä’s take-off point, was an innocuous-looking stone. Partially buried in the ground, the stone had been lifted slightly and had its leading edge remodeled. Remodeled by Ogier’s left-rear.
Ogier couldn’t fathom what had knocked the tire off the rim and pre-occupied with analyzing his own shunt, Rovanperä hadn’t been able to shed much light. Have this one on us, champ. This is the rock that came close to ruining your day.
Equally, this is the rock that potentially kept you on the road. Like we said at the top of this story, the distance from the rock to the edge of oblivion was three centimeters.
It really was that close.