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WRC Rally Croatia

WRC Rally Croatia: Everything you need to know

The World Rally Championship returns to asphalt for the fourth round of the season with a visit to Croatia this weekend.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

The WRC heads to Croatia in a sombre mood following the death of Hyundai driver Craig Breen, who succumbed to injuries sustained in a testing crash ahead of the event last Thursday.

The 33-year-old was set to make his second WRC start of the season in the third Hyundai entry, which has now been withdrawn from the event.

As a mark of respect and after discussions with Breen’s family and with his surviving co-driver James Fulton, Hyundai will field two cars for Thierry Neuville, sitting second in the championship standings, and Esapekka Lappi. The cars will run a special tribute livery to Breen, while all Rally1 and Rally2 cars are expected to display branding in honour of the Irishman.

Toyota’s eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier, competing in a partial campaign, heads the championship standings despite contesting only two of the three rounds to date, after winning last month’s round in Mexico.

The Frenchman, who won Croatia’s maiden WRC round in 2021, is likely be among the victory contenders. He holds a three-point series lead over Neuville, while world champion and 2022 Croatia winner Kalle Rovanpera sits third in the standings, four points shy of team-mate Ogier.

Toyota will also be represented by Elfyn Evans, who finished as runner-up on the Croatian asphalt in 2021, and Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta.

M-Sport-Ford’s challenge will be headed by Rally Sweden winner Ott Tanak. The 2019 world champion, who sits fourth in the title race, was pipped to victory by Rovanapera at this event 12 months ago.

Tanak will be joined by Pierre-Louis Loubet, who will pilot the sister Ford Puma. Croatia marked the Frenchman’s first WRC outing in the Puma last year.

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Vincent Landais, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Vincent Landais, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

What is Rally Croatia?

Croatia is one of the latest editions to the World Rally Championship joining the calendar in 2021 to provide a new asphalt challenge for crews.

The sealed surface special stages are slippery even in the dry, while the asphalt varies from super-smooth to worn tarmac, with crests and jumps only adding to the challenge.

The rally can trace its origins back to an event known previously as the Delta Rally and the Croatia Delta Rally, with the first iteration taking place in 1974, won by Tomislav Markt, driving a BMW 1600. It became an all asphalt rally from the late 1980s.

From 2007-2013, the rally hosted a round of the European Rally Championship.

Rally Croatia winners

Toyota has won both editions of the event since it joined the World Rally Championship in 2021.

Sebastien Ogier won the inaugural event after pipping team-mate Elfyn Evans by 0.6s, the third smallest winning margin, while Kalle Rovanpera took the spoils after defeating Ott Tanak in a final stage showdown last year.

In the rally’s previous guise as the Delta Rally, Branislav Kuzmic holds the record of most victories with five under his belt.

Rally Croatia itinerary

This year’s edition will be contested over 20 stages, comprising 301.26km across three days of competitive action.

Thursday 20 April
Shakedown - begins - 0800 BST - 0900 local

Friday 21 April (8 stages - 130.18km)
Stage 1 - Stage 8 - begins 0703 BST - 0803 local

Saturday 22 April (8 stages - 116.60km)
Stage 9 - Stage 16 - begins 0654 BST - 0754 local

Sunday 23 April (4 stages - 54.48km)
Stage 20 - Stage 23 - Final stage begins 1215 BST - 1315 local

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: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Entry List Rally1 (Road Order)

The entry list features 56 crews headlined by eight Rally1 car entries.

#17 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#69 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#8 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1

Championship leader Oliver Solberg heads up the WRC2 entry, although the Swede has chosen his debut run at the rally to be a non-points scoring event.

Reigning champion Emil Lindholm and Citroen driver Yohan Rossel, sitting tied second in the standings will however be scoring points. The event will be the latter's first round since winning the season-opener in Monte Carlo in January.

Rally Mexico winner Gus Greensmith will tackle his first event on asphalt in the Skoda Fabia as he looks to build on his impressive run last time out. Nikolay Gryazin, Adrien Fourmaux, Sami Pajari, Erik Cais and Gregoire Munster are expected to be among the contenders for class honours.

How have the Rally1 cars changed for 2023

WRC teams have spent the off season refining Rally1 machines ahead of a second season under the new hybrid rules.

Reigning champions Toyota have not stood still. The pronounced air boxes that adorned the flanks of the car to cool the hybrid unit have been replaced with a much smoother more aerodynamic design, as it was found the 2022 design overestimated the amount of cooling required for the hybrid unit This has resulted in a re-design of the rear fenders and arches. The rear wing has also been tweaked to compensate for the new aero package.

In addition to the aero changes, Toyota has elected to upgrade its 1.6 litre engine to improve the delivery of power and its torque.

Hyundai has also revealed noticeable changes to its aero on its i20 N. The 2023 car features updated bodywork to the front and rear of the car. The bonnet has been flattened and extended while the front arches have also been modified. The team has also opted for a heavily revised rear wing and wing mirrors.

The new look extended front end has turned the nose of the car into effectively an extra splitter. At the rear, a new rear wing has been designed with last year’s central wing and end plate option transformed into one continuous wing covering the maximum width of the car.

Meanwhile, M-Sport has unveiled a bold new look for its Puma Rally1 with an electric blue and pink livery, replacing its popular purple colours from last season. While the car looks similar to its 2022 model, the team plans to continue its development during the season.

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

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

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

How does the Rally1 hybrid system work?

Drivers will have the use of hybrid power during every stage, with power boosts activated by the throttle pedal, while further boosts will be unlocked through energy regeneration under braking during stages.

Pilots will be required to regenerate 30 kilojoules of energy before another boost is granted that will be used the next time they touch the throttle pedal.

The extra 130 horsepower is delivered through the use of three bespoke homologated engine maps selected by teams, depending on the type of stage and conditions.

Determined by the FIA and event organisers, drivers will be required to navigate parts of road sections and around event service parks in full electric mode.

In full electric mode the car has a range of 20km, while its 3.9KWH battery, operating up to 750 volts, can be plugged in and recharged in the service park within 30 minutes. The hybrid unit can withstand an impact of 70G.

The cars are powered by a 100% sustainable fuel.

Testing reduction and other rule changes

The sporting regulations have undergone a refresh with arguably the biggest change being a reduction in testing.

WRC teams will only be permitted 21 test days (seven per driver) instead of the allotted 28 as per last season in bid to reduced costs and improve sustainability. Last year each manufacturer driver would complete a pre-event test day prior to all European rounds.

The move has prompted mixed views among teams and drivers.

Also new for this year, Rally1 drivers will be restricted to using a total of 28 tyres during an event. They will also be no longer handed an extra four tyres for use in shakedown.

In Gravel rallies only, organisers have removed the 15 minutes service normally held before the start of each day.

“By removing the morning service on gravel events and trimming the flexi-service window for P1 cars, we can reduce the working day by up to three hours, which will benefit team members but also the many volunteer officials, including scrutineers and service park marshals,” explained FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley.

Podium: Winners Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 with Jari-Matti Latvala, Team principal Toyota Gazoo Racing

Podium: Winners Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 with Jari-Matti Latvala, Team principal Toyota Gazoo Racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

How to follow WRC in 2023

Autosport will provide reports, interviews and reaction.

Motorsport.tv will also have regular highlights both during and after each WRC round in 2023.

Pay television

WRC Plus All Live will provide live coverage from every stage.

BT Sport will provide daily highlights shows from every event this season.

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