Croatia's challenging tarmac next up to test WRC contenders

Croatia's challenging tarmac next up to test WRC contenders

It’s a return to Tarmac for the FIA World Rally Championship stars and their cars when the fourth Croatia Rally to count for the world series takes place from 18-21 April.


A new addition to the calendar in 2021, the Croatia Rally is as exciting as it is demanding with changing levels of grip, the potential for mixed weather conditions, jumps and high-speed sections all part of the challenge. 


Forming round four of the season and the first of seven consecutive FIA WRC events in Europe, Croatia Rally is also one of four sealed-surface contests on the calendar. 


The event, which is based in Croatia’s capital Zagreb and attracted 400,000 visitors to the various fan zones lining the route in 2023, takes place with the race to win the various FIA World Rally Championship titles finely balanced. 


After three rounds, the top two in the provisional Drivers’ standings, Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans, are just six points apart. In the current Manufacturers’ ranking, the gap between Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT and Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team is a mere four points. Hyundai and Toyota have both taken wins this season, while M-Sport Ford World Rally Team made it two podiums in a row on Safari Rally Kenya last month.


As well as overall points, Croatia Rally counts for FIA WRC2 for Rally2 cars, FIA WRC3 for Rally3 cars, FIA Junior WRC for identical Ford Fiesta Rally3s run by M-Sport Poland and the FIA Masters Cup for drivers over 50 years old.


Among the 18 young talents in action in Junior WRC are the four FIA Rally Star drivers, Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó (Peru), Taylor Gill (Australia), Romet Jürgenson (Estonia) and Max Smart (South Africa). 


All Rally1 cars competing on Croatia Rally will use tyres from official supplier Pirelli. The first choice PZero HA hard-compound tyre is for warm and dry weather, while the option tyre is the SA soft-compound tyre for cool and damp conditions. A maximum of 28 tyres, including four for shakedown, can be used during the event.



Croatia Rally organisers have made modifications rather than wholesale changes to the route although there are some notable differences compared to 2023. 


The headquarters and service park have relocated to Zagreb’s spacious Westgate Shopping Centre. There is no midday service on Friday, although crews will get the chance to fit new covers at a remote Tyre Fitting Zone. Krašić - Sošice test combines two old stages – Krašić - Vrškovac and Kostanjevac - Petruš Vrh, with part of the Kostanjevac - Petruš Vrh test run in an opposite direction to previously. Jaškovo - Mali Modruš Potok is back having last been used in 2022. In total, Leg one features four repeated stages located west and southwest of Zagreb, with the itinerary covering 119.74 competitive kilometres and including the 23.63-kilometre Krašić - Sošice test, the longest of the rally. 


Leg two takes crews south of Zagreb for four stages run either side of service and totalling 108.76 kilometres. 

The deciding Sunday leg is based north of Zagreb with the familiar Zagorska Sela - Kumrovec Wolf Power Stage getting under way from 13:15 CET.



Stage distance:    283.28 km
Total distance:     1429.34 km
Number of stages:     20


Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team: Thierry Neuville, the provisional points leader after three rounds, heads Hyundai’s bid for what would be a maiden Croatia Rally victory. Ott Tänak, a double Croatia Rally podium finisher, and two-time FIA WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen, complete the line-up.


M-Sport Ford World Rally Team: With back-to-back podiums providing a welcome confidence and points boost, Adrien Fourmaux leads the line at M-Sport and is joined by Grégoire Munster, who is regarded as a Tarmac specialist.


Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT: Undefeated in Croatia since the country joined the WRC trail in 2021, Toyota’s challenge consists of last year’s winner Elfyn Evans, eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier, the first driver to win a WRC-counting Croatia Rally, plus Takamoto Katsuta, who finished second on Safari Rally Kenya.


After finishing first and second in FIA WRC2 on January’s Rallye Monte-Carlo, Yohan Rossel (DG Sport Competition Citroën C3 Rally2) and Pepe López (Škoda Fabia Fabia RS Rally2) both appear on a talent-packed Croatia Rally entry list. The list also includes Sami Pajari (Printsport Toyota GR Yaris Rally2), Nikolay Gryazin (DG Sport Competition Citroën C3), Georg Linnamäe (Toyota GR Yaris), Nicolas Ciamin (Hyundai i20 N Rally2), Lauri Joona (Škoda Fabia Fabia RS), Emil Lindholm (Hyundai i20 N Rally2), Yuki Yamamoto (Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT GR Yaris), Gus Greensmith, the category winner on Safari Rally Kenya in a Toksport WRT-entered Škoda Fabia Fabia RS, and William Creighton (Ford Fiesta Rally2), who won the FIA Junior WRC Championship in 2023.


Mattéo Chatillon brings Renault’s Clio Rally3 to FIA WRC3 but faces opposition from 23 drivers in Ford Fiesta Rally3s, 18 of whom are eligible for FIA Junior WRC. They include the 2023 FIA Junior ERC title winner Norbert Maior, Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy-supported Eamonn Kelly and Tom Rensonnet, who is backed by the Belgian federation RACB National Team initiative. The four FIA Rally Star drivers, Jose ‘Abito’ Caparó, Taylor Gill, Romet Jürgenson and Max Smart are also in contention for FIA Junior WRC honours. 


Mauro Miele, Eamonn Boland and Armin Kremer are among the FIA WRC Masters Cup contenders. 

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