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WRC Croatia: Ogier victorious after final day drama for Evans, Neuville

Sebastien Ogier clinched victory in Croatia after emerging from a tense three-way fight with World Rally Championship title contenders Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans that ended in dramatic circumstances.

Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Ogier and co-driver Vincent Landais triumphed following an incident-filled Sunday that saw the pair inherit the lead after Hyundai driver Neuville and Toyota’s Evans both crashed in stage 18 of 20.

Ogier took the first win of his 2024 partial campaign from Evans by 9.7s, while Neuville had to settle for third [+45.9s] after his costly error. 

The battle for victory developed into a three-way fight from Friday’s opening leg as Neuville started strongly and took advantage of opening the road to surge into the lead.

After stage six Neuville opened up a 10.1s advantage over Evans before witnessing his lead reduce to 0.1s after picking up a front right puncture caused by a rock in the middle of the road towards the end of the stage.

Evans managed to edge into the lead on stage seven but Neuville fought back on the day’s final test to incredibly end Friday tied for the rally lead with Evans after 119.74 competitive kilometres.

The stage however belonged to Ogier, who was 9.2s quicker than his nearest rival, a time that hauled himself into the victory fight to sit 6.6s behind Neuville and Evans.

The intense fight for the lead continued into Saturday when the expected heavy rain failed to arrive and tyre decisions played a factor. Neuville’s decision to take more hard tyres compared to Evans and Ogier, who took more softs in anticipation of rain to arrive, proved the marginally correct call.

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

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

Photo by: Toyota Racing

However, the lead swapped between Neuville and Evans before the former produced blistering pace to win the final two stages of the day to move into a slender 4.9s lead. Ogier remained in third, 11.6s adrift after surviving two wild moments that could have ended in drama. 

But the battle took another turn on Sunday when Evans cut the deficit to 2.6s before the pair both made errors and ran into different grass banks on stage 18. Evans lost 19.6s following his impact that pitched the car into a spin, while Neuville shipped 23.3s after emerging from the bank with a damaged rear wing and no hybrid power on his i20 N. Neuville attributed the mistake to a late pacenote call. 

The unfolding drama handed Ogier the advantage and despite a brief visit to the grass bank in stage 19, the eight-time world champion held his nerve to claim a 59th WRC victory and his 100th podium.

Evans managed to secure points to 19 points, the same amount as Neuville. Evans continues to trail championship leader Neuville, who took nine stage wins this week, by six points.

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak finished a distant fourth overall [+58.6s] after struggling with the setup of his i20N. The Estonian did however walk away with an impressive 20 points after finishing second in the Super Sunday standings and setting the second fastest time on the Power Stage.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta finished fifth [+1m55.5s] and ended Sunday’s classification fastest to claim seven points on top of two more from the Power Stage.

M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux had held fifth for the majority of the rally before clipping an anti-cut device in stage 18, which cost the Frenchman 16 minutes to repair his steering. Fourmaux reached the finish to bank his eight points for finishing fifth on Saturday, and then snatched a further five points from winning the Power Stage, to maintain third in the championship.

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Andreas Mikkelsen’s second Rally1 hybrid appearance for Hyundai ended in sixth [+4m01.0s] ahead of M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster [+5m11.0s], who enjoyed a clean rally.

In WRC2, Nikolay Gryazin took a comfortable 38.2s victory from Citroen team-mate Yohan Rossel.

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