Preview Croatia WRC 2022: Rovanperä defends leadership in hostile territory  

After a two-month hiatus, the World Rally Championship is back this weekend (April 21-24) with the third round of the season, the Croatia Rally. The country, back in the WRC calendar following its 2021 debut, will be the first race of the hybrid era that is disputed exclusively on tarmac. 

It is hard to predict which candidate is going to rule on the winding roads around Zagreb. Leading the standings after his last victory in Sweden and former fourth place in Monte Carlo is Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota Gazoo Racing).

This weekend, just as he did twelve months ago, he will defend his position as the youngest leader in history, this time around with 14 points more than Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), second. The 21-year-old Finn, however, will have to chase away the bad memories that this round will surely bring.

During the previous edition of the Croatia Rally, a severe accident five kilometers into the race prevented him from fighting for victory.


Poor knowledge of the route, a handicap for Rovanperá

His poor knowledge of the treacherous 20 stages that cut across the hills surrounding the Balkan capital, is also going to play against him. To make things even more challenging, rain is expected this weekend. 

“Everybody has now one more year of experience there so I think it’s going to be a bit difficult for us. But we have been in that situation also before and we just try to manage that the best way possible. It’s going to be trickier for me this year. Last year it was a new event for everybody and it seems that it was quite a tricky one.” 

The Japanese team, however, took an exciting 1-2 last year with Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans engaged in a vibrant duel right up to the final meters. In the last corner, and as the Welshman was about to claim victory, he slipped onto the grass handing the win to his French teammate by 0.6 seconds, the third closest finish in WRC history. 

To Evans’ relief, the seven-time French champion will not be defending his Croatian throne this time around. Instead, the reborn Finn Esapekka Lappi and his compatriot Rovanperä will race alongside the Briton making up the GR Yaris trident. The Japanese Takamoto Katsuta will sit behind the wheel of a fourth vehicle belonging to the second Toyota team. 

Hyundai: After its first win of the hybrid era  

Hyundai Motorsport, for its part, will be chasing its first victory of the season using the same line-up of the last two races. Thierry Neuville, the highest classified of the Alzenau team, second in the standings, following his second place in Sweden, will be looking to close the gap with Rovanperä.

The Belgian driver will be escorted by Ott Tänak and the young Swedish Oliver Solberg aboard the other two i20 N Rally 1. After a disappointing start to the 2022 World Rally Championship, the Estonian racer is feeling the pressure to produce a great result this weekend. 

M-Sport dreams of a breakthrough  

Gus Greensmith, currently fourth in the standings, seems to be M-Sport’s main asset. The Irishman Craig Breen and the Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux, fifth on his WRC Croatian debut a year ago, will take the start alongside Greensmith. Pierre-Louis Loubet will complete the line-up of the team from Cumbria. The 2019 WRC French champion will drive a Puma Rally 1 for the first time. 

Croatia Rally route

The Croatia Rally will commence on Thursday night in Zagreb. Ahead await three days of fierce battling over ‘broken asphalt‘ with numerous jumps and slopes dotted along the route and with varying degrees of grip. The race will consist of 291.84 km into 20 stages. 

Images of Croatia Rally: Toyota WRC.


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