It’s a return to Tarmac and Croatia for round four of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship for what will be a sombre occasion following the passing of Craig Breen in a team testing accident last week (Thursday).
While the 33-year-old’s death has left the entire WRC community in a state of shock, Croatia Rally’s third appearance in the world championship presents an opportunity for his peers to honour his memory.
Croatia follows on from Rally México where a second victory of 2023 for Sébastien Ogier has put the eight-time WRC champion on top of the provisional standings, albeit with a slender three-point advantage over Thierry Neuville. Kalle Rovanperä, the defending champion, is just one point further back. Rally Sweden winner Ott Tänak is fourth for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, nine points adrift of Ogier, with Elfyn Evans 12 behind his Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate.
Taking place from April 20-23, Croatia Rally first hosted the WRC in 2021 when Ogier overtook and beat Evans by 0.6s in a thrilling final-stage battle. The top two positions were also reversed on the deciding stage last season, as Rovanperä defeated Tänak.
As well as counting for overall FIA WRC2, FIA WRC2 Challenger, FIA WRC3 and FIA WRC Masters, Croatia Rally forms round two of the FIA Junior WRC Championship, which is currently led by William Creighton following his victory in Sweden.
THE ROUTE IN SHORT
Croatia Rally organisers have elected to follow a tried and tested route, albeit with some minor adjustments.
The Stojdraga - Gornja Vas stage on leg one now runs through to the village of Hartje, a move that his increased its length from 20.77 to 25.67 kilometres and the rally’s timed distance to 301.26 kilometres. Replacing Jaškovo - Mali Modruš Potok, the Ravna Gora - Skrad stage, meanwhile, is new for 2023 and takes place on leg two.
Getting underway on Thursday April 20 on the 3.65-kilometre Shakedown stage near Okić, an ancient town with records dating back to 1193, the National University Library and Zagreb Fountains is home to the Ceremonial Start from 18h30.
The Samoborsko Gorje, Žumberak and Karlovac hills west and southwest of host city Zagreb on Friday April 21 provide the setting for four repeated stages run either side of service at the Zagreb Fair exhibition site.
Four more double-use stages west of Zagreb and split by service in the capital offer the challenge on Saturday April 22 with leg two’s Platak stage including a section in view of the Adriatic Sea.
The deciding leg on Sunday April 23 is formed of two stages run twice and starts with Trakošćan - Vrbno, the rally’s northernmost stage. The day also features the 14.09-kilometre Zagorska Sela - Kumrovec Power Stage from 13h15 CET with the INA building located adjacent to the service park providing the backdrop for the podium finish from 15h30.
CROATIA RALLY DATA
Stage distance: 301.26 km
Total distance: 1650.68 km
Number of stages: 20
Twenty crews are entered for the WRC2 category with the three class winners of 2023 – Yohan Rossel (PH Sport Citroën C3 Rally2) plus Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 pair Oliver Solberg and Gus Greensmith – all in action. Nikolay Gryazin was a winner of a Croatian national event earlier this month and will also contest the country’s WRC round along with a number of others, including Sami Pajari, Czech driver Erik Cais and Adrien Fourmaux, who is representing M-Sport.
Croatian brother and sister Martin and Dora Ravenščak are among the WRC3 crews getting a taste of world championship competition, while eight fellow rising talents are in contention for the Junior WRC victory. They include the Junior ERC champion from 2022, Laurent Pellier and Belgian Tom Rensonnet, who is supported by the RACB National Team initiative from his national ASN.
WHAT’S NEW IN THE WRC FOR 2023?
- WRC2 Junior becomes WRC2 Challenger as the criteria switches focus on competitor experience rather than age
- WRC2 Masters for drivers 50 or over in Rally2 cars expands to also allow Rally3, Rally4, Rally5 and RGT cars. The name has changed to WRC Masters as a result
- Central European Rally featuring stages in Austria, Czech Republic and Germany joins the WRC schedule for the first time in October
- To further promote sustainability, testing away from nominated test venues for Rally1 manufacturers is cut from 28 to 21 days
- In the interests of reducing the hours that volunteer officials must be in duty, morning service on gravel events is removed from the itinerary
Friday April 21
07:00 hrs Start of Section 1 (Service Park)
19:45 hrs (approx.) Meet the Crews with team principals and top 3 drivers (Main Stage, SP)
Saturday April 22
06:30 hrs Start of Section 3 (Service Park)
22:15 hrs (approx.) Meet the Crews with team principals and top 3 drivers (Main Stage, SP)
Sunday April 23
05:45 hrs Start of Section 5 (Service Park)
15:30 hrs Final podium and prize-giving ceremony (INA building)
16:30 hrs FIA Post-event Press Conference (Media Centre)
A moment of silence will be observed in tribute to Craig Breen at the Power Stage and final podium ceremonies.