Hyundai Motorsport has topped the timesheets on the first day of Croatia Rally, the third round of the 2021 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with a tantalisingly close battle unfolding between the top three.
Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe hold the provisional lead by a narrow margin of 7.7-seconds after the inaugural WRC stages to be held on the Croatian tarmac roads. Just eight seconds separate the podium places after eight of the event’s 20 scheduled stages.
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja finished Friday’s running in fourth place, one spot ahead of team-mates Craig Breen and Paul Nagle in fifth.
The rally got underway with the shortest stage of the event, the 6.94km Rude-Plešivica test, which set a challenging tone for the rest of the day. Tricky, low-grip conditions prevailed for the remainder of the loop as crews tackled Kostanjevac-Petruš Vrh (23.76km), Jaškovo-Mali Modruš Potok (10.10km) and Pećurkovo Brdo-Mrežnički Novaki (9.11km). The four stages were repeated after a lunchtime service at Zagreb.
Neuville, who opened his 2021 championship account with two consecutive podiums (third places in Rallye Monte-Carlo and Arctic Rally Finland), got the rally off to a flyer by securing the first-ever WRC Croatia Rally stage wins in SS1 and SS2. He added another fastest time in SS4 to head into service with a 7.3-second advantage in a competitive top-three.
Tänak was fastest out of the blocks in the afternoon loop to take Hyundai Motorsport’s fourth stage win of the day (and second 1-2), as he aimed to find more form in his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. The changing grip on Croatia’s varied tarmac roads made for unpredictable, challenging conditions for all crews, as they tried to get to up to speed in this brand-new event.
Breen said: “It’s been quite a difficult start to this rally, which is our first tarmac event in a WRC car for some time. In some places we felt things were getting better, but we struggled in others. Our pre-event test was held on a completely different type of road – wide, fast and with grip – so the reference has not been the same. This is all part of the learning process. I have some ideas what to do in order to find improvements, mainly on the differentials side. We’ll see if we can make that work. There are a lot of stages still to go in this rally.”
Team Principal Andrea Adamo said: “It has been a day on which I think everyone has enjoyed the fight between the top three crews, led by Thierry and Martijn. Sadly, we had our other two drivers Ott and Craig a bit behind. We are working with them to improve their performance because, for sure, we need them to close the gap to the top-three.”
Saturday at a glance
Eight stages will be held on the penultimate day of Croatia Rally, a repeated loop of four timed tests split by a lunchtime service
First stage is a live at 729am Irish time
The itinerary gets underway with the 20.30km Mali Lipovec-Grdanjci stage before moving onto the 20.77km Stojdraga-Gornja Vas route.
Two shorter stages, Krašić-Vrškovac (11.11km) and Vinski Vrh-Duga Resa (8.78km), complete the loop.
Saturday’s schedule covers 121.92km of competitive stages, the longest individual day of the rally.
Classification after Day One
1 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 55:36.8
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia Toyota Yaris WRC +7.7
3 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota Yaris WRC +8.0
4 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC +31.9
5 C. Breen P. Nagle Hyundai i20 Coupe +54.8
6 A. Fourmaux R. Jamoul Ford Fiesta WRC +1:14.7
7 G. Greensmith C. Patterson Ford Fiesta WRC +1:21.7
8 P.L. Loubet V. Landais Hyundai i20 Coupe +1:31.5
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