Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera did enough to win WRC Croatia Rally from Hyundai pair of Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville.


Kalle Rovanpera demolished his opponents in Friday’s treacherous opening leg of the WRC Croatia Rally to build a convincing lead of more than a minute. Despite rain, mud and mist in the hills west of capital Zagreb, he won six of the eight asphalt speed tests in a Toyota GR Yaris to head a resilient Thierry Neuville by 1min 04.0sec.

FIA World Rally Championship leader Rovanpera thrived in the tricky conditions. He won three of the morning’s four special stages to lead by 47.5sec and stretched it during an equally dominant afternoon. Having missed valuable experience when he crashed in the opening kilometres of Croatia’s WRC debut 12 months ago, the Finn expected to be at a disadvantage.

But first in the start order helped as conditions progressively worsened as each car dragged mud onto the road. Neuville endured a topsy-turvy day. The Belgian completed the opening quartet of tests 12.5sec adrift, but a broken alternator belt in his Hyundai i20 N’s engine twice stopped the car en route to service. Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe pushed the car the final 800m.

The exhausted pair fell to the floor as they arrived four minutes late and a 40sec penalty demoted them to fourth. A spirited afternoon, including fastest time in the final stage, propelled them back to second. They had 19.3sec in hand over team-mate Ott Tanak. The Estonian’s low start position hindered him, along with a penultimate stage puncture, but Tanak was content with third.

Despite overshooting a corner and narrowly missing a water hydrant, Craig Breen was fourth on his first time aboard a Ford Puma in the wet. The Irishman overnighted 11.9sec back. Oliver Solberg was delayed by a spin and was fortunate to survive an impact in a water-filled corner en route to fifth in his i20 N. He was more than a minute adrift of Breen and 10.6sec clear of Evans, who denied Rovanperä a clean sweep of morning stage wins.

That was the Welshman’s only joy as two punctures on his GR Yaris cost valuable time. He was almost 40sec clear of the similar car of a low-on-confidence Takamoto Katsuta. In worse trouble was Esapekka Lappi who retired his GR Yaris in the first stage after clipping a boulder and wrecking the front right corner.

Aside from Breen’s efforts it was a disappointing day for M-Sport Ford. Adrien Fourmaux went out after sliding his Puma through a hedge into a roadside garden, while both Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith exited when three punctures left them with no more usuable tyres onboard. WRC2 leader Yohan Rossel was eighth with Nikolay Gryazin and Eric Camilli completing the leaderboard.


Kalle Rovanpera’s commanding WRC Croatia Rally lead came under threat from Ott Tanak during Saturday’s absorbing second leg. FIA World Rally Championship leader Rovanpera began the second day of three in the hills near Zagreb with a seemingly impregnable lead of almost 90sec over the Estonian in his Toyota GR Yaris.

He ended with that advantage slashed to just 19.9sec after a puncture and Tanak’s persistence set up an exciting Sunday finale. Tanak had already trimmed Rovanperä’s lead when the Finn punctured his front left tyre on the morning’s penultimate speed test amid heavy rain and thick fog at the Platak ski resort above the Adriatic coast.

The pair were the only frontrunners who had the advantage of Pirelli’s wet weather tyres on all four corners of their cars. While Tanak pushed on through the gloom to win the stage in his Hyundai i20 N, Rovanpera conceded nearly 55sec. Tanak sniffed the opportunity of a first victory for more than a year and nibbled back more time, despite an afternoon gearchange problem. But Rovanpera sent a clear message in the final test, setting fastest time to regain 5.1sec.

Tanak admitted the Platak test was an eye opener. While conditions on the other stages were drier than yesterday, the weather deteriorated in Platak and the afternoon’s repeat pass was cancelled. Craig Breen and Thierry Neuville were blanketed by 4.9sec for the final podium place, almost a minute behind Tänak. Breen overshot a hairpin in his Ford Puma while Neuville’s torrid weekend took yet more twists.

He received a one-minute penalty overnight for speeding on Friday which relegated him from second to fourth. His i20 N had to be pushed into service this morning and another 10sec penalty came for leaving a minute late. Neuville clawed back almost 40sec from Breen to end hot on the Irishman’s heels and 49.9sec clear of Elfyn Evans. The Welshman won the opening test in a GR Yaris but was reluctant to take risks when on course for his first points finish of the year.

Takamoto Katsuta rounded off the top six. The Japanese pilot dropped time with a puncture and an overshoot and was almost 3min 40sec adrift of Evans. WRC2 leader Yohan Rossel was seventh, with fellow support category contenders Nikolay Gryazin, Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Emil Lindholm completing the top 10.

Oliver Solberg crashed his i20 N out of fifth in the opening stage, which was cancelled as rescue vehicles attended a fire at the rear of the car. Esapekka Lappi returned after hitting a rock and retiring his GR Yaris yesterday. The Finn benefited from opening the roads and scored three fastest times.


Kalle Rovanpera snatched an extraordinary WRC Croatia Rally victory on Sunday afternoon as a downpour turned the event on its head in the final kilometres. The Finn led from the start of the three-day rally in the hills around Zagreb in his Toyota GR Yaris, only for a storm in the penultimate speed test to wipe out his hard-earned advantage.

A resurgent Ott Tanak, whose gamble on softer Pirelli tyres gave his Hyundai i20 N a performance edge on the streaming asphalt, grabbed a 1.4sec lead. The pendulum swung back towards Rovanpera as drier roads in the closing Wolf Power Stage offered hope, but the odds remained firmly in Tanak’s favour as mud and dirt littered the final 14.09km.

Rovanpera threw caution to the wind and remarkably overturned the deficit to claim back-to-back FIA World Rally Championship wins by 4.3sec. Victory extended his points lead to 29 after three rounds of the 13-event season. He had dominated the early stages of the event and was almost 90sec clear until falling into Tanak’s clutches following a puncture on Saturday morning. He rebuilt his lead to half a minute until the deluge set up a breathtaking finale.

It was a disappointing outcome for Tanak, whose victory drought dates back to February 2021. The Estonian finished 2min 16.7sec clear of team-mate Thierry Neuville. The Belgian overhauled Craig Breen on the final morning to claim a podium despite a torrid weekend which would have forced many to give up.

He and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe were on the point of collapse after pushing their car for 800 metres into service on Friday after stopping with alternator problems. Time penalties and speeding fines knocked them further back and they almost gave up a podium with sight of the finish after hitting a bank and almost rolling.

Breen survived an overshoot and a spin to take fourth in a Ford Puma. The Irishman fended off a closing Elfyn Evans, whose fifth place marked a first points finish of the year for the GR Yaris driver. Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta was a distant sixth in another Yaris.

The tricky asphalt, allied with heavy rain and fog, proved highly attritional and the remainder of the leaderboard was filled by drivers from the WRC2 support category. Yohan Rossel secured seventh ahead of Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Emil Lindholm. A poor tyre choice cost Nikolay Gryazin valuable time across the closing stages and he dropped two places to 10th.

Here’s WRC Croatia Rally:

[Note: The above is per press release with no edits made]