WRC – Dominant Rovanperä sublime in Croatia  | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

WRC – Dominant Rovanperä sublime in Croatia 

22.04.22

2022 Croatia Rally – Friday evening

Kalle Rovanperä had the beating of his opponents during Friday’s treacherous opening leg of the Croatia Rally to build a convincing lead of more than a minute.

Despite rain, mud and mist in the hills west of capital Zagreb, he won six of the eight asphalt stages in a Toyota GR Yaris to head a resilient Thierry Neuville by 1m04.0s.

FIA World Rally Championship leader Rovanperä thrived in the tricky conditions. He won three of the morning’s four tests to lead by 47.5s, an advantage he stretched during an equally dominant afternoon.

Having missed valuable experience when he crashed in the opening kilometres of Croatia’s WRC debut 12 months ago, the Finn feared he would be at a disadvantage. But first in the start order helped as conditions progressively worsened as each car dragged mud onto the road.

“Probably it was one of my best days in a rally car,” Rovanperä said at the completion of Friday’s action. “It’s always nice to have a lead but it’s also difficult to have a big lead like this. Tomorrow is a long day so I still need to drive fast to keep concentrated.”

Neuville endured a day of mixed fortunes. The Belgian completed the opening quartet of tests 12.5s adrift of the lead, but a broken alternator belt in his Hyundai i20 N’s engine twice stopped the car as he headed to service in Zagreb.

Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe pushed the car the final 800 metres. The exhausted pair fell to the floor as they arrived four minutes late and a 40-second penalty demoted them to fourth. A spirited afternoon, including fastest time in the final stage, propelled them back to second and they have 19.3s in hand over team-mate Ott Tänak heading into day two. 

The Estonian’s low start position hindered him, along with a penultimate stage puncture, but the former world champion was content with third.

Despite overshooting a corner and narrowly missing a water hydrant, Craig Breen was fourth on his first time aboard a Ford Puma in the wet. The Irishman is 11.9s behind after leg one.

Oliver Solberg was delayed by a spin and was fortunate to survive an impact in a water-filled corner en route to fifth in his i20 N. He was more than a minute adrift of Breen and 10.6s clear of Evans, who denied Rovanperä a clean sweep of morning stage wins.

That was the Welshman’s only joy as two punctures on his GR Yaris cost valuable time. He was almost 40s clear of the similar car of a low-on-confidence Takamoto Katsuta.

In worse trouble was Esapekka Lappi who retired his GR Yaris in the first stage after clipping a boulder and wrecking the front right corner.

Aside from Breen’s efforts it was a frustrating day for M-Sport Ford. Adrien Fourmaux went out after sliding his Puma through a hedge into a roadside garden, while both Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith exited when three punctures left them with no more usuable tyres onboard.

WRC2 leader Yohan Rossel (PH Sport Citroën C3 Rally2) is eighth with Nikolay Gryazin (Toksport WRT Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo) and Eric Camilli (Saintéloc Junior Team Citroën) completing the top 10. Sami Pajari heads WRC3 in a Ford Fiesta Rally3, while Robert Virves is on top in FIA Junior WRC after early pacesetter Jon Armstrong crashed out.

Saturday’s second leg follows a similar format to Friday with four stages driven in the morning and afternoon in the same territory, except for the penultimate test of each loop which heads further west towards the Adriatic coast city of Rijeka. The eight stages cover 116.98km with the day’s first stage getting underway 07h43 CET.