Elfyn Evans has ended an 18-month win drought after taking victory at Croatia Rally. The Welshman is now joint championship leader together with Sébastien Ogier.
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 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.
Evans: “It all feels so insignificant at the moment.”
“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, referencing the passing of friend and driver Craig Breen.
“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.
Lappi secures emotional podium for Hyundai
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.
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. WRC2 winner Yohan Rossel, Nikolay Gryazin and Oliver Solberg completed the leaderboard.
The series returns to Rally de Portugal next month to start the WRC’s gravel season. The fifth round is based at Matosinhos on 11 – 14 May.
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WRC Croatia Rally 2023 – Results
|#||Drivers||Car||Time / Diff. to 1st|
|1.||Evans / Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||2:50:54.3|
|2.||Tänak / Järveoja||Ford Puma Rally1||+27.0|
|2.||Lappi / Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+58.6|
|4.||Rovanperä / Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+1:18.3|
|5.||Ogier / Landais||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+1:28.0|
|6.||Katsuta / Johnston||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+2:22.5|
|7.||Loubet / Gilsoul||Ford Puma Rally1||+4:22.6|
|8.||Rossel / Dunand||Citroën C3 Rally2||+7:51.3|
|9.||Gryazin / Aleksandrov||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+8:07.4|
|10.||Solberg / Edmondson||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+9:16.7|
WRC 2023 Drivers’ Championship – Standings after Round 4/13 [Top 10]
WRC 2023 Manufacturers’ Championship – Standings after Round 4/13
|1.||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||161|
|2.||Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT||132|
|3.||M-Sport Ford WRT||108|
Photo, text: Red Bull Content Pool