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Latvala: Neuville, Evans tied for WRC Croatia lead "something special"

Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans sharing the Croatia Rally lead after eight stages is “something special” for the World Rally Championship, according to Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Hyundai’s Neuville and Toyota driver Evans incredibly clocked identical overall times to sit tied for the lead on Friday night after 119.74 competitive stage kilometres.

Neuville claimed three of the four morning stages on the way to opening up a 10.1-second lead over Evans until a puncture on stage six cost the Belgian valuable time.

Evans moved into a 1.6s lead before Neuville responded on the final test to match Evans at the top of the leaderboard.

While the top two couldn’t be separated on times, only 6.6s covered the top three following Sebastien Ogier’s stunning victory on stage eight.

The hard-fought battle has arrived while the championship’s future is firmly in the spotlight as discussions continue among the teams and the FIA to resolve next year’s Rally1 technical regulations.

The FIA wishes to remove hybrid power and decrease the performance of the cars through a reduction in aero and the air restrictor, although these proposed changes have been strongly opposed by the teams.

Asked about the battle for the rally victory, Latvala told Autosport: “It is exciting. In the morning it was looking like it was going to be a tough day for us because Thierry was so strong on the first stage, and I thought our chances were not going to be so great.

“But the drivers improved over the day and eventually having exactly the same time with Thierry and Elfyn is something special.”

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Hyundai’s WRC programme manager Christian Loriaux added: “It shows the World Rally Championship is exciting and it is close, and it is worth existing, that is for sure. It [Thierry and Elfyn sharing the lead] is quite amazing.”

Evans is among a group of drivers keen for the current Rally1 regulations to remain in place next year and believes the close battle is proof the technical formula works.

“It is good. We know that the technical formula has worked for many years now and the cars and the battles are always close - like I’ve always said, that side works,” Evans told Autosport.

Reflecting on his own performance across the eight stages, Evans felt he left some time on the table, particularly in the final stage, but ultimately was satisfied with his Friday showing.

“There were quite a few things [we could have done better], but overall, it was still quite a good day,” he said.

“I was disappointed with the last stage as I think there was time left in there.

“I think the third stage I was a bit too careful in a few places, but you have to try and find that balance in those conditions to get to the end and go quickly.”

Although the pacesetter for much of Friday, assisted by a road position advantage, Neuville admitted that he had “to give everything” to recover the lost ground after the puncture, and tame his i20 N.

“I mean it was definitely a good fight out there,” said Neuville. “We had to give everything in every stage.

“We are in the lead equal with Elfyn but we lost important seconds this afternoon with our puncture and I was just generally struggling a bit with the balance of the car.

“It got a bit better toward the end of the day, but the last stage was massive dust, so there was lots of cleaning and there was not much more we could have done.”

The rally continues on Saturday although rain showers are expected to add to the challenge for the crews.

Watch: Croatia Rally Friday Afternoon Highlights

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