Croatia Rally once again delivered another thrilling event.
It’s a rally that not only rewards you if you’re confident, but it’s also very quick to bite if you make even the smallest of mistakes.
While Elfyn Evans crossed the line to win his first World Rally Championship event since Rally Finland in 2021, the same fortunes did not favor several other drivers.
It was up to Rob Hansford and Adam Proud to decide who the winners and losers were from this event.
Here’s what they came up with:
This is exactly what Elfyn Evans needed. Of course, he benefited hugely from Thierry Neuville’s crash, but at the end of the day you’ve got to be up there to pick up the pieces, and that’s exactly what he did.
He kept chasing at the heels of the Hyundai and was there to pounce when it all went wrong for Neuville. From there he never looked back.
Ott Tänak kept the pressure on but as the weekend progressed that just began to fade away as Evans failed to falter, with the M-Sport driver eventually settling for second.
No mistakes and a very clean run throughout was the perfect way for Evans to take his first victory since Rally Finland in 2021.
Yes, it’s not been a plain sailing rally for Tänak, but what rally has this year?
He had a few more issues with his Puma Rally1 to contend with throughout Croatia Rally, but despite that, he was still Elfyn Evans’s closest challenger. And not only that, but he was often still able to set times putting him right at the sharp end of the timesheets.
And with Thierry Neuville, Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä faltering, it means he’s also put himself right back towards the sharp end of the championship standings.
As damage limitation goes, you have to say it was a pretty impressive job from the 2019 world champion.
You can’t fault Yohan Rossel this weekend. He’s been deserving of the WRC2 victory and really put in the effort when he needed to.
He excelled in the tricky conditions that Friday threw up, which was ultimately what allowed him to drive to victory as he ended the first day with a 29.9s gap over Nikolay Gryazin.
Gryazin did bring that gap down as the weekend continued, but Rossel never faltered under the pressure and held off to take his second victory of 2023.
A promising performance for Rossel, who will be back in action next time out on Rally Portugal.
Well, this was not how Neuville wanted his rally to go at all.
He was in total command of the rally, executing the job perfectly. He and Hyundai were desperate for the win, and it would have been so heart-warming to see them get the top step in light of the tragic news of Craig Breen’s passing.
But on SS11 any hopes of that were dashed as Neuville crashed into a concrete post, damaging his suspension.
Speaking on Sunday morning Neuville confirmed that driver error was to blame. He braked half a meter too late, but it’s those fine margins that are the difference between winning and losing.
Winning the powerstage was some consolation, but it still has to be viewed as a disappointing weekend for Neuville, especially when rivals around him also had difficult weekends.
Up until Croatia, 2023 had been the best start Neuville had ever had to a WRC season. This is a setback and definitely has to be considered as an opportunity missed. And that’s something he can ill afford this year.
It certainly ended as a ‘what could have been’ weekend for Sébastien Ogier. He only led for one stage as he topped the times on SS1, before it all came crumbling down for the eight-time champion.
Picking up a puncture after “trying to be safe” on the second stage of the weekend forced him into making a recovery drive.
But that quickly took another hit as he was slapped with the one-minute penalty for a seatbelt infringement at the time of the puncture, sending him even further down the order.
Without that penalty could a podium have been on the cards for Ogier? It’s fair to say yes, it could have been. But ultimately two mistakes on the same stage cost him dearly and ended his hopes to take a third victory in 2023.
As much as it was a touching gesture for Toyota to only nominate two cars to score manufacturer points rather than the normal three to honor Craig Breen, it might also now be ruing its choice of drivers.
Evans had a brilliant event, but while he still picks up points in the drivers’ standings, his result won’t contribute to the manufacturers’ championship.
Instead, Toyota opted to nominate Rovanperä and Ogier for Croatia, two champions who you would have expected to be the ones more likely to be fighting for victory.
But neither of them managed to make the top three with Rovanperä and Ogier finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
If the start of this season is anything to go by, Toyota is going to have a much harder task to retain the manufacturers’ title this year, so these could be valuable lost points.
But at least it won’t face this situation again as three cars will be registered, as normal, for the rest of the season.