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WRC - Evans claims Rally Croatia lead as Neuville retires on Saturday morning

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2023 Rally Croatia - Saturday morning

2023 WRC - Rally Croatia - Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR), Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid (Photo: Nikos Katikis/DPPI)

Elfyn Evans finds himself in the Croatia Rally lead after Thierry Neuville crashed into retirement on Saturday morning.

Neuville had headed Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Evans by just 5.7sec overnight and stretched his advantage over the Welshman into double figures on the opening pair of dry asphalt speed tests in the hills west of Croatian capital Zagreb.

But the Belgian’s reign came to an end in the all-new Ravna Gora - Skrad stage when his Hyundai i20 N stepped out of line in a right-hand bend. The rear-left of the car collided with a concrete block, causing terminal damage.

Evans inherited the top spot as a result, but he cannot afford to relax. A final stage scare did not help to calm his nerves and M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak was just 22.6sec behind at the mid-leg service halt.

"The surface at the end of the last one, we knew it was low on grip, but I skimmed a barrier with the rear,” Evans exhaled. “We were very lucky."

Esapekka Lappi climbed to third overall at team-mate Neuville’s expense, although the Finn was unhappy with his morning. A lack of traction eroded his confidence and he lost ground to the frontrunning pair, completing the loop 22.2sec in Tänak’s wake.

Pierre-Louis Loubet was over a minute further back in his Puma but came under increasing pressure from Toyota drivers Sébastien Ogier, Takamoto Katsuta and Kalle Rovanperä - all of whom were less than five seconds behind.

Ogier is on a recovery mission after being handed a one-minute penalty on Friday evening. He was lumbered with a further 10-second sanction before the action had even restarted after a technical issue on the road section made him arrive late to the first stage.

Yohan Rossel maintained his stronghold on the WRC2 category lead in eighth overall while Nicolas Ciamin and Nikolay Gryazin completed the leaderboard.

2023 WRC - Rally Croatia - Yohan Rossel (FRA)/Arnaud Dunand (FRA), PH Sport Citroën C3 (Photo: Nikos Katikis/DPPI)