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WRC - Poignant win and mixed emotions for Elfyn Evans & Scott Martin in Croatia

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2023 Rally Croatia - Final report

2023 WRC - Rally Croatia - Final Power Stage podium and tribute to Craig Breen (photo Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool)

Elfyn Evans stormed to victory at Croatia Rally on Sunday afternoon, soaring to the top of the FIA World Rally Championship standings in the process.

An error from Thierry Neuville on Saturday morning propelled the Welshman to first overall, and he distanced himself from M-Sport Ford Puma driver Ott Tänak across the rest of the rally to win by 27.0sec in a Toyota GR Yaris.

The triumph, his first since Secto Rally Finland in 2021 and the first of his career on asphalt, elevated Evans from fifth to equal-first in the drivers’ championship standings. He is tied on points with Sébastien Ogier after round four of 13, with Kalle Rovanperä just a single point behind and Tänak three more in arrears.

“Obviously we’ve been working towards this for a long time, but it all feels so insignificant at the moment  – that’s the bottom line,” said Evans. “After the focus of the weekend, we’re all back to missing our friend now. Straightaway after coming across the finish line, that’s all we can think about. We promised Craig’s family we would enjoy the weekend, and we’ve done that. We’re all thinking of them right now.”

His Toyota Gazoo Racing team preserved its unbeaten Croatia Rally record whilst also increasing its manufacturers’ championship lead over Hyundai Motorsport to 29 points.

The season’s first pure asphalt fixture delivered tremendous action, and Tänak looked set to become a real threat to Evans as he set a furious pace early on Saturday afternoon. However, a transmission issue later on the penultimate day obstructed the Estonian’s charge and he cruised to the finish 31.6sec clear of Esapekka Lappi.

2023 WRC - Rally Croatia - Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford WRT, Puma Rally1 Hybrid (Photo: Nikos Katikis/DPPI)

Lappi lacked confidence on some of the dirtier sections of road, but consistency rewarded him with his first Hyundai i20 N podium – a welcome boost after crashing out from the lead in the previous round.

Behind him were a trio of Toyotas headed by defending champion Rovanperä, 19.7sec in arrears. The Finn had languished outside of the top ten after changing a wheel in SS2 on Friday, but hauled himself back up the leaderboard with an impressive recovery drive. He surpassed Sébastien Ogier on the final morning to claim fourth overall, edging his team-mate by just 9.7sec.

Ogier, who solely led the championship before this rally, was left to rue what could have been. Although he trailed victor Evans by 1min28.0sec at the finish, he also stopped to change a wheel whilst leading on Friday and received further blows in the form of time penalties. In total, the time loss amounted to roughly two-and-a-half minutes.

Takamoto Katsuta made it four Toyotas in the top six ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who nursed his Puma to the finish with bent steering.

Rossel doubles up with WRC2 triumph in Croatia

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

In eighth overall, Yohan Rossel, along with navigator Arnaud Dunand, secured his second victory in as many WRC2 starts, completing a lights-to-flag win.

The Frenchman assumed control in the premier support category on Friday’s opening stage and never faltered in his Citroën C3. He did, however, come under pressure from Toksport WRT2 Škoda Fabia RS crew Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov, who ate into his lead on Saturday afternoon.

The rivals entered Sunday’s four-stage finale just 11.5sec apart but Rossel, who also won the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo, delivered a faultless drive to keep his rival 16.1sec behind. Gryazin/Aleksandrov finished ninth of Croatia Rally, WRC2 class second, but claimed the WRC2 Challenger win.

Emil Lindholm fought back from a broken transmission linkage on Friday to complete the podium in his Fabia. The Finn was a hefty 1min11.4sec adrift of the front-running pair, although he did have 51.0sec in hand over fourth-placed Adrien Fourmaux.

Fourmaux, who was hampered by a throttle issue early in the event, leapfrogged Škoda Sami Pajari in Sunday’s second stage to claim the position, while Gus Greensmith completed the top six in his similar car.

Oliver Solberg, tenth overall in Croatia, was not registered to score WRC2 championship points.

Germany's Armin Kremer, co-driven by his daughter Ella, claimed the WRC Masters Cup win in a Skoda Fabia RS with a confortable advantage of over five minutes over Austria's Johannes Keferböck/Ilka Minor in second.

2023 WRC - Rally Croatia - Armin Kremer/Ella Kremer, WRC Masters Cup winners (photo: Nikos Katikis/DPPI)