Frenchman bids to maintain Toyota's stronghold at first pure asphalt fixture of the 2023 season.
As an eight-time FIA World Rally Champion, Sébastien Ogier is no stranger to starting on the front foot. And that’s exactly where he finds himself ahead of this week’s Croatia Rally (20 - 23 April), the first pure asphalt fixture of the year.
Frenchman Ogier arrives in Croatia with a three-point lead over Thierry Neuville. Neuville and Hyundai Motorsport team-mate Esapekka Lappi’s i20 N cars will carry a special livery in memory of beloved colleague and WRC family member Craig Breen, who tragically lost his life last week.
But defending his early-season advantage is not the primary objective for Ogier, who only competes on a part-time basis. Instead, the ultimate prize would be to complete a Croatian treble for his Toyota Gazoo Racing squad.
Ogier clinched victory at the inaugural Croatia Rally in 2021 but sat out last year's event, which was won by his GR Yaris team-mate Kalle Rovanperä.
“Even if the mindset is different without the [full] championship, I still have the same aim to perform at my best and score some wins and good points for the team,” Ogier said.
“Croatia is a difficult one, but recently I have been pretty strong on Tarmac. It was kind of natural for the team and me to decide to go back to Croatia.”
Only Ogier and Rovanperä are nominated to score points for Toyota Gazoo Racing this week. Out of respect for Hyundai, which now fields only two cars, the Japanese marque has withdrawn Elfyn Evans from the manufacturers’ championship battle at this rally. The Welshman, however, remains eligible to score drivers’ championship points alongside Takamoto Katsuta, who drives a fourth Yaris.
Ott Tänak is M-Sport Ford’s frontrunner. The Estonian, who lies fourth in the standings, is joined by Pierre-Louis Loubet, and will be eager to make amends after being hampered by mechanical woes last time out.
The rally starts in capital city Zagreb on Thursday evening ahead of three days of competition on asphalt which varies from smooth to broken and features many tricky crests and jumps. The 20 stages cover 301.26km.