What we learned from Rally Croatia 2024

Neuville and Evans proved their title credentials in another thrilling Croatia Rally, while Fourmaux and Jürgenson showed the future is bright


It took a little while to get going but, eventually, Rally Croatia delivered the blockbuster action we’ve come to expect from the asphalt event. And that was despite the lack of rain – the traditionally variable weather has usually been a source of drama, yet it still delivered despite staying almost entirely dry the whole way through.

But what did we learn about the ongoing World Rally Championship season from Croatia? There’s a few things to take stock of after an action-packed weekend.

Neuville and Evans are not a step below anyone


Elfyn Evans was in a tit-for-tat battle with Thierry Neuville for every stage of Rally Croatia

There’s an argument I’ve seen bandied around a lot in various comment sections in the last year or two that suggests that Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans are somehow not on the same level as the two most recent world champions, Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier.

What Croatia did is demonstrate that this is complete nonsense. Yes, in the end, Ogier prevailed, partially because the other crews made errors. But dig deeper and you’ll realise this was pure luck of the draw and nothing else.

Ogier will have been more surprised to win than anyone else. He started on the back foot with his road position and did a typically world-class job to cope with it as best he could. Friday’s last stage, where he was 0.4s per kilometer faster than everyone, was a useful reminder of why he’s won eight world titles.

But, come Saturday, he was not able to make inroads on the leaders, despite having slightly superior road position. Neuville and Evans were simply on the limit, fighting for every last tenth – and Ogier was exactly the same. There was a moment where, his car fully loaded after landing from a jump, he turned in for a fast right-hander and the car simply snapped; he came millimetres from smashing into a fence. The same thing happened to Adrien Fourmaux on Sunday; the difference that time was Fourmaux’s car ended up pointing at an anti-cut marker that he couldn’t avoid.

Then on Sunday, Ogier went off the road entirely, running wide and off up a bank. The difference to Neuville and Evans was his moment came in a slower corner and he could simply keep driving forwards after his off-road trip. As the man himself pointed out, he’d never had so may moments on one rally in his entire career. But he had to push that hard – Neuville and Evans would simply have disappeared up the road otherwise.

It cannot be said that Neuville and Evans’ are not on the level of Toyota’s other world championship-winning drivers. Croatia is proof of that.

Rally-winning pace is within Fourmaux – now it’s about unlocking it

It was already clear that Adrien Fourmaux is a much different driver from the one we’d previously seem at the top level in 2022. And it’s obvious that M-Sport wouldn’t have kept him around if they didn’t believe there was world-class potential in there somewhere.

But the Croatia powerstage was the first crystal clear example of what Fourmaux can do when he has to go out and push to the maximum. He still needed to finish Sunday to bank the eight points from the day before. And yes, on the first pass of Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec, he’d hit an anti-cut marker and broken the steering. But he made amends on the second pass.


Adrien Fourmaux proved he can turn on the pace under pressure

Fourmaux didn’t just win the powerstage; he dominated it. It was not even close. And, before his stage 18 mishap, he’d been battling Katsuta for top spot in the Sunday points.

He needed to start the year by proving the old Fourmaux was dead and buried – two podiums clinched by being sensible and playing the long game ticked that box. Croatia ticked another one: at the right moment, when the pressure is high, he can take on Ogier, Tänak et al and beat them. The next step is working towards doing that regularly.

Croatia has cemented its status as a modern classic

On Saturday there was a niggling feeling that, finally, Croatia might have produced a somewhat boring rally. Yes, Evans and Neuville were battling hard for the lead – but what else was going on? Not a whole lot.

Then the powerstage reminded us of what Croatia’s roads can bring. Kumrovec, where the powerstage finish has been sited since Croatia’s WRC debut, has entered the highest echelons of rally folklore: it has earned the right to sit alongside Viladrau, Baumholder, Sospel as a member of asphalt rallying elite. Mention that name in future and we’ll all remember Evans running wide over the grass and losing the win to Ogier in 2021, Rovanperä miraculously snatching victory back from Tänak in 2022 and now the chaos of stage 18 this year.

Croatia is still negotiating an extension to its WRC deal and isn’t guaranteed to be on the calendar next year. The rally organizers are pushing to move the event towards the coastline, which has already been hinted at by the rally stopping off at Rijeka last Friday for a regroup and tire-fitting zone between runs of Platak. The complication of a move away from Zagreb to the coast is what it would mean for Kumrovec; it just wouldn’t be Rally Croatia without it. Which says a lot for a stage that’s only been in the WRC for four years.

FIA Rally Star is running ahead of schedule


FIA Rally Star was designed to find a future champion, but Romet Jürgenson is leading the JWRC standings in just his first season

When FIA Rally Star kicked off back in 2021, it had set out a clear multi-year pathway it hoped its chosen drivers would follow. Six prospects from around the globe would be chosen in 2022 for a training season the following year, then the best four of those would make it to Junior WRC in 2024.

“The objective is to become a prospect for a podium place, initially for a win, and later a title,” was the goal set out by the FIA.

Romet Jürgenson is already running ahead of schedule. He made his Junior WRC debut on Rally Sweden in February and immediately scored a podium. He’s just comfortably won Croatia Rally. When early pacesetter Ali Türkkan crashed out, Jürgenson fully capitalized and racked up nine stage wins, each one bringing a bonus championship point.

Pre-season favorite for the title Diego Domínguez Jr is already 45 points behind, having retired from the season opener and finished ninth last week after rolling on the opening day. Taylor Gill is a bit closer, but Jürgenson had the measure of the Australian driver across their training season in 2023.

A lot can happen in three rounds. But the future already looks very bright for Jürgenson; if he can see this one through and win the title, a fully-funded WRC2 drive awaits. One that was only expected to be won in 2025, if at all.