It was all-change on Rally Croatia this morning with overnight pacesetters Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe slipping to third and World Champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia completing Saturday’s opening loop of the Croatia Rally with an advantage of 7.0s.
The dramatic change of positions owed much to the respective tyre strategies of the factory Hyundai and Toyota teams. Toyota opted for a hard-compound Pirelli tyres, while Hyundai selected a combination of hard and soft-compound Pirelli covers in the hope they would be more suitable for the conditions.
However, dry stages in the spectacular Croatian countryside and rising ambient temperatures meant the hard-compound option provided better grip and consistency, which was reflected by Toyota locking out the stage wins this morning with Ogier/Ingrassia fastest twice and Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin and Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt posting a fastest time apiece.
Having started leg two leading by 7.7s, Neuville/Wydaeghe returned to Zagreb Fair for the midday service 19.6s down on Ogier/Ingrassia in third position following a morning of frustration for the Hyundai-powered Belgians.
Evans/Martin are 12.6s up on Neuvillle/Wydaeghe with four stages of Saturday’s middle loop remaining.
Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja holdl fourth overall, 37.5s off the leading pace, with World Rally Car rookie Adrien Fourmaux fifth alongside co-driver Renaud Jamoul. M-Sport driver Fourmaux, who is stepping up from the WRC2 for Rally Croatia, started leg two in sixth position but moved ahead of Craig Breen/Paul Nagle when the Irish crew picked up a puncture barely 100 metres from the start of SS9.
Breen/Nagle’s delay dropped them to ninth overall behind Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson and Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt. FIA WRC2 leaders and defending champions Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen complete the top 10 in their Citroën C3 Rally2.
After clocking his first WRC stage win on Rally Monza last December, Toyota’s Japanese development driver Takamoto Katsuta was at it again on SS10 when he beat team-mate Sébastien Ogier by 3.4s over 20.77 kilometres following an impressive effort.
Adrien Fourmaux underlined his huge potential with the second best run behind his hero Sébastien Ogier on SS9. Driving an M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC in the world championship for the first time, Frenchman Fourmaux was 2.0s down on Ogier through the 20.30-kilometre Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci test.
Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov demoted Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen for the FIA WRC2 lead on SS11 but dropped back to second on SS12 by 2.3s after being forced to wait on the start line for several minutes due to a stage delay. Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula are third.
In FIA WRC3, Kajetan Kajetanowicz leads Emil Lindholm and Chris Ingram after Yohan Rossel stopped on SS11. Martin Koči holds a comfortable advantage of 26.5s over Jon Armstrong in the Junior WRC order.
Saturday afternoon’s loop begins with a repeat of the 20.30-kilometre Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci stage from 14:29 local time. The first crews are due back at the Zagreb Fair service park for the end-of-day service at 18:18.