WRC – Neuville On Top Ahead Of Croatia Rally Finale

Thierry Neuville led a finely balanced Croatia Rally after Saturday’s enthralling penultimate leg ended with the leading three drivers blanketed by 11.6sec.

After a day of many twists and turns – literally and metaphorically – Hyundai i20 N star Neuville held a 4.9sec advantage over Toyota rival Elfyn Evans, provisionally scoring 18 points to boost his championship charge against the Welshman. Eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier made it two GR Yaris cars inside the top three, ending within 11.6sec of the top spot.

The morning swung in Neuville’s favour thanks to his efforts in preserving his four soft compound Pirelli P Zero tyres. Evans, who had ended Friday tied with the Belgian, dropped 4.7sec across the loop as he struggled to juggle only three softs, two wets and one hard tyre in the absence of forecasted rain.

All three Toyota crews opted to carry four soft and two wet tyres for the repeated afternoon loop while Neuville chose a more diverse package comprising two hards, two softs and two wets.

Although that strategy initially paid off for the Japanese marque when Evans reclaimed the lead after beating Neuville by 6.7sec in the light drizzle of SS13, Neuville responded by winning the final three asphalt tests in predominantly dry conditions to go back in front.

Neuville’s Saturday standing will earn him 18 points, providing he completes Super Sunday. Evans will receive 15 while Ogier gets 13.

“It’s not a big lead, but we had a great day,” smiled the leader. “Despite a not perfect tyre choice this afternoon we were capable of defending our lead. We need to continue attacking and have a good tyre choice [on Sunday]. It wasn’t easy when the weather wasn’t very easy to judge.”

Ott Tänak was fourth, more than a minute further back in another i20. The Estonian was lucky to escape with nothing more than slightly a bent rear wheel when he ran wide on a left-hander and clipped a kerb.

Tänak had 19.9sec in hand over Adrien Fourmaux’s Ford Puma in fifth. Fourmaux was again impressive in his M-Sport machine, taking the fastest time at Smerovišće – Grdanjci to stretch his advantage over Toyota’s third driver Takamoto Katsuta.

Seventh-placed Andreas Mikkelsen suffered another time-consuming overshoot but felt increasingly comfortable aboard his Hyundai by the day’s finish. Grégoire Munster gained more valuable experience in his Puma to end the day eighth.

Four more stages lie in wait in Sunday’s finale, with up to 12 championship points still up for grabs. They total 54.78km before the finish in Croatian capital Zagreb.

Gryazin closes in on Croatia Rally WRC2 victory

In ninth overall, Nikolay Gryazin is four stages away from clinching the Croatia Rally WRC2 victory after steering his DG Competition-entered Citroën C3 Rally2 to a 39.5sec lead over team-mate Yohan Rossel.

In a similar manner to Friday, Gryazin and Rossel dominated proceedings on the broken asphalt stages around Croatia’s capital city Zagreb, despite Rossel losing more than 35sec on the final stage of the morning loop when he picked up tyre damage.

That incident allowed Gryazin to ease up over the remaining stages, knowing that the Citroën pair were more than two minutes clear of Spain’s Pepe Lépez, who eventually brought his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 back to overnight service 2min 21sec behind Rossel.

López has everything to drive for on Sunday with Nicolas Ciamin honing in on a podium position. The Hyundai i20 N Rally2 driver sliced his deficit to Lopez from 20.1sec at the beginning of Saturday to just 10.8sec at the end.

Jürgenson puts one hand on Croatia WRC3 and Junior WRC crown

FIA Rally Star driver Romet Jürgenson maintained his stronghold in the WRC3, completing Saturday’s penultimate leg with a 2min 9.4sec lead.

The Estonian began day two of the treacherous asphalt fixture with a lead of more than one minute over nearest challenger Tom Rensonnet. His advantage widened further after SS11 when the Belgian driver retired due to his car’s engine overheating.

Nevertheless, Jürgenson showed no inclination to ease off despite his substantial lead. In addition to WRC3, the 24-year-old is also competing for FIA Junior WRC honours, with the series offering a single bonus point for every stage win.

Fastest on three of the day’s eight special stages, only four tests on Sunday stand between Jürgenson, co-driver Siim Oja and a maiden victory in both categories.

Australia’s Taylor Gill benefited from Rensonnet’s misfortune and secured an FIA Rally Star 1-2 in his similar Ford Fiesta Rally3 car. Filip Kohn occupied the final podium spot 25.0sec behind after battling with sole Renault Clio Rally3 entrant Mattéo Chatillon. Kohn grabbed the position in the final stage and will head into Sunday 2.6sec ahead of the Frenchman.

A further 36.1sec adrift of Chatillon, and rounding out the top five, were the brother-sister pairing of Norbert and Francesca Maior.

Petr Borodin dashed any hopes of a top-six result when he rolled his Fiesta in SS13. Eamonn Kelly retired earlier in the day with a coolant leak, while Raul Hernández also failed to finish due to mechanical issues.


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