For the first time in history, Croatia, which replaces Mexico, will host this weekend a test of the World Rally, which is contested entirely on tarmac and with which it will become the 34th country to host a WRC rally.
After the Monte Carlo and the Arctic Rally, the Rally Croatia It will be the third stage of the World Cup led by the Finn Kalle rovanpera (Toyota) ahead of the Belgian Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and the French Sebastien ogier (Toyota), winner of the opening round and tied on points with the British Elfyn evans (Toyota), while Estonian Ott Tänak (Hyundai), winner of the second on snow in Finland, is fifth.
In his debut on the World Cup calendar, the Rally Croatia offers 300.32 kilometers of stages in the mountain ranges around Zagreb, the host city, all on asphalt. After several cancellations in 2020 due to the pandemic, Croatia offers an unprecedented challenge, as it will be the first 100% asphalt test since the one held in Germany in August 2019.
According to the organizers, the Croatian rally will have up to six different types of asphalt, all of them with changing grip levels. This feature makes the test more demanding for both cars and drivers.
“It doesn’t look like anything else, it’s Rally Croatia and it’s not going to be easy,” he says. Tänak, world champion in 2019. “There really are a lot of curves,” he details Neuville in reference to the many that can be cut. “All the stages are different, some fast, others very rough, especially on Saturday the tenth special”, on the border with Slovenia, nicknamed the “special of a thousand curves”.
Ogier, seven times world champion, also announces “parts with brush, very narrow, and certain sections that could remind a bit of Alsace -the WRC Rally that was held from 2010 to 2014-, with the many corners with mud, especially if rains”. But according to the 37-year-old veteran French rider, the Croatian asphalt also looks “a bit like the one we found in 2010 in Bulgaria, albeit an old memory: quite soft and with little grip”.
But all eyes will be on Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota), who after his fourth place in Monte Carlo and second in Finland, became, at the age of 20, the youngest leader in the World Cup. The former pilot’s son Harri Rovanperä He leads a tight classification in which the top five are separated by 12 points.
A small gap, logical after only two rallies, but one that could last: “In terms of pure performance, I don’t see big gaps between the five. I do not have a crystal ball, but on paper it is clearly possible that the classification remains tight until the end, “he says Ogier.
Because after Croatia, the WRC will enter the season on gravel with five rallies on this surface (Portugal, in which the Spanish will reappear Dani sordo, absent in the Arctic Rally and in Croatia; Italy, Kenya, Estonia and Finland) from the end of May to the end of July,
It remains to be seen if M-Sport Ford, the third manufacturer in the World Cup and without any representative in the top 10, can enter the dance of the hopefuls to win.
The Rally Croatia, based in Zagreb, will have a total route of 1,279.87 kilometers, 300.32 of them divided into twenty special stages: eight on Friday, eight on Saturday and four on Sunday.