Метка: Rally Croatia

Auction raises more than €50K for Craig Breen Foundation

To mark the one-year anniversary since the loss of much-loved World Rally Championship driver Craig Breen, an auction was set up. The Hyundai WRC team, which Breen drove for from 2019-2021 and in 2023, supported it by donating a host of items.

The list of items up for auction included crash helmets worn by WRC drivers Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak last year, a pair of Dani Sordo’s Hyundai WRC overalls and a passenger ride in a Hyundai WRC Rally1 car.

The auction closed on Tuesday night having reached €51,982. Neuville’s crash helmet attracted the largest price topping out at €10,010, while Tanak’s helmet went for €6,101. Sordo’s overalls will have a new owner following a bid of €2,800.

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The funds will go directly to the Craig Breen Foundation which was set up last year. The foundation’s goal is to carry on Breen’s legacy by helping young drivers through the rallying ranks, a cause the late Irishman was particularly passionate about. It currently provides financial support to young drivers competing in Ireland’s J1000 Forestry Series.

The foundation has announced it will support the championship for a minimum five-year period.

Prizes on offer for drivers in the championship range from financial support to funded drives in the Spanish and Portuguese Hyundai i20 Cup with the Sports & You team, which Breen competed for in the Portuguese Rally Championship last year.

The Hyundai WRC team paid tribute to Breen at last weekend’s Croatia Rally by running a special tribute livery on its three i20 N Rally1 cars driven by Neuville, Tanak and Andreas Mikkelsen.

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

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FIA not at war with manufacturers over 2025 WRC technical rules

The WRC is currently facing uncertainty over its technical rules for next season after the FIA proposed changes that have been strongly opposed by manufacturers.

In February, the FIA released its vision for the short and long term future of the championship, which included proposed changes to sporting, technical and promotional aspects of the series.

While teams have been largely supportive of the majority of the proposed vision, Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford collectively wrote to the FIA requesting the current Rally1 technical rules remain in place instead of the FIA’s proposed changes. The tweaks to the rules include the removal of hybrid power, a reduction in the aero, achieved by a modified rear wing, and a smaller air restrictor, to bring the cars closer to Rally2 vehicles.

The proposal also includes a plan to introduce an upgrade kit to Rally2 car, which has not been met positively by Rally1 and Rally2 manufacturers.

The idea behind the proposal is to increase the number of cars competing at the sharp end of rallies while the move is seen by the FIA as the first step towards the introduction of new Rally1 regulations for 2027 and beyond.

Manufacturers believe the FIA should focus on 2027 having raised concerns about the short timeframe and the outlay of resources needed to develop revised Rally1 cars, which prompted the push-back letter.

Speaking at last week’s Croatia Rally, team bosses labelled the 2025 rules limbo as a “critical” situation that needs to be resolved with manufacturers required to communicate the future to their boards.

Following a two-day WRC Commission meeting earlier this month, the FIA is now confident that it is edging closer to a compromise with May now the target to deliver its decision to teams ahead of the June World Motor Sport Council meeting.

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

“The position we are in at the moment is we need to find harmony with the manufacturers and honestly I don’t think we are so far away,” said Wheatley at a media roundtable including Motorsport.com.

“We have another World Motor Sport Council coming in June where we have to make the preparations six weeks before and we are now right in the process and we are meeting constantly with the manufacturers and exchanging ideas.

“The latest date [to communicate the technical rules] is the June World Motor Sport Council. There is an impression that there is a war between the FIA and the manufacturers and there is not. We had a meeting in Geneva that wasn’t 100% negative, we had a very good two-day discussion about a number of topics.

“We are fully understanding of the position of where the manufacturers are. They just want to do nothing, nothing at all.”

When asked if the plan is to work on a compromise on regulations with the manufacturers, he added: “I think that is where we are at the moment. That is where the discussion is. We have all the options on the table. We know what the target is and what the aim is.”

Wheatley also clarified the three reasons why the FIA has taken such an intervention to propose changes for 2025 and 2026 instead of focusing on just 2027.

He added: “There were three key elements, the first was Pirelli not committing [to a new tyre deal]. The second, the drivers not wanting to do the championship and the third was, and we always have this discussion about Ford whether they are in or out, but there was an additional layer and that was about Hyundai continuing [in the WRC]. That has been a fundamental change in the discussion going forward.”

The WRC Commission is set to meet again on April 25.

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New points system offered “zero reward” from “mega” WRC battle

The Toyota driver has been among the most critical of the new points system and again brought the subject back into question after finishing second behind team-mate Sebastien Ogier.

Evans scooped 19 points from the weekend, picking up 15 for finishing second on Saturday before claiming three from the Super Sunday classification and one from the Power Stage.

His tally matched title rival Thierry Neuville, who finished third, to ensure Evans continues to trail the Hyundai driver by six points in the championship standings. 

Another quirk of the points structure saw Ott Tanak claim 20 points, one less than rally winner Ogier after finishing fourth. Tanak picked up 10 points after ending Saturday fourth but earned six points from finishing second in the Sunday standings, and four points from the Power Stage.

After being involved in a “mega” battle for the win with Neuville and Ogier throughout the rally before a mistake on stage 18, Evans felt his efforts were not sufficiently rewarded.

“Of course, there was a lot of joy from it [the close fight with Neuville] but at the end of it all even though we have had a mega weekend, it feels like there is zero reward for it given the new points structure,” Evans told Autosport when asked about his tense battle for the win.

“Adrien [Fourmaux] spent 15 minutes changing his steering arm and he has got 13 points and we have come away with 19 points and Ott has got 20 points. It is difficult to feel joy and you can clearly see that on the podium, everybody is in the same boat.”

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: M-Sport

The new points system is being monitored by the FIA, but the intention is for the system to see out the season according to the governing body’s road sport director Andrew Wheatley.

“The rules are set year by year and if you want to change the points system in the year you have to have unanimous agreement of every registered competitor and that is incredibly difficult to do,” said Wheatley on the Friday of the event.

“The intention of the points system is to let it run for the year and we are constantly monitoring it to understand what the implications are and what the opportunities are. We have had a couple of ends of the spectrum. I don’t think we have had anybody reporting at the end of a Sunday stage saying that they are just driving round.

“What it has done so far is it has achieved its target [to improve the action on Sundays] however we have both ends of the spectrum and we have to see if we are still achieving the target at the middle or the end of the season.”

In addition to frustrations over the points system, Evans rued a “big error” in taking more hard tyres than his rivals, which he felt contributed to his costly spin in stage 18 that ended his victory hopes.

“I am just so disappointed with my tyre choice this morning it was quite a big error to go so brave,” added Evans.

“The conditions were worse than what we expected, and we knew there would be pollution [on the road] and we didn’t quite expect it to be as bad as it was.

“Of course, the spin happened as a result of the hard tyre on the rear, so it was definitely a mistake to go with that choice today.”

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WRC Croatia not a “disaster” after final day error

The Hyundai driver took a 4.9s lead into the final day after winning nine of the 16 stages up to that point, in what was an intense battle with Toyota’s Elfyn Evans.

However, both Neuville and Evans hit trouble in stage 18 on Sunday morning, which effectively ended the pair’s victory hopes.

Neuville drifted into a grass bank following a late pacenote call, costing him 23.3s while causing significant damage to the i20N’s rear wing that left him unable to fight in the remaining two stages.

While frustrated at missing an opportunity to score perhaps one of his finest victories, Neuville was happy to match rival Evans in scoring 19 points and maintain his six-point championship.

“Definitely there is a frustration but on the other hand we have been well rewarded yesterday after our great drive on Friday and Saturday [to score 18 points] and they were important points and they have made the difference,” Neuville told Motorsport.com.

“Despite not scoring many points today we were still the third best performer and equal with Evans and only lost one point to Ott [Tanak]. We can’t say it was a disaster.

“The stage [where we crashed] was really tricky but what happened, happened. I tried my best to avoid it, but we were just far too late and when I got the pacenote I immediately hit the brakes, but the corner was so much tighter and there was nothing I could do.

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

“It [the car] was undrivable [without the rear wing], I couldn’t expect it, but it was a disaster. I was driving fast on the last stage and I lost 30 seconds.”

Although happy to lead the championship, Neuville expects a tough battle to hold onto his advantage when the WRC returns to gravel, beginning with Portugal next month.    

“I’m happy to still be in the lead and happy to keep at least our advantage because it is no secret that from Portugal onwards it is going to be tough for us with several gravel rallies in a row,” he added.

“Without really heavy rain or different circumstances, it will be tough for us to score many points on Friday and Saturday but Sunday could be a bit better if we have a better road position.”

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Ogier victorious after final-day drama for Evans, Neuville

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 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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Ogier takes shock lead as Neuville, Evans crash

Ogier started the morning 11.6 seconds adrift of Neuville but similar accidents for both Neuville and Evans have pushed the eight-time world champion into a 9.1s lead over Evans.

Evans and Neuville both reached the end of stage 18 with damaged cars — with the latter, who started the day leading by 4.9s, now dropping to third, 10.2s in arrears.

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak survived a moment in stage 18 to maintain fourth [+1m02.3s] while M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux handed fifth overall to Takamoto Katsuta [+1m57.1s]. Katsuta also leads the Super Sunday classification by 3.9s from Tanak.

Sunday morning began with a blast through the wide and open roads of stage 17 [Trakoscan-Vrbno, 13.15km] with the lead trio all opting for different tyre strategies to add extra intrigue to the victory battle. Rally leader Neuville selected one hard and four softs, while Evans chose three hards and two softs and Ogier opted for two hards and three softs.

Evans’ decision appeared to help the Welshman on the increasingly dirty road as the early runners dragged gravel onto the surface. The Toyota driver managed to take 2.3s out of leader Neuville to chop the deficit down to 2.6s with three stages remaining.

“I’m pretty surprised already, lots of pollution and quite slippery especially at the end of stage — overall quite good,” said Evans.

Neuville wasn’t overly concerned by Evans’ attack and felt confident his tyre decision would come back to him as the loop progressed.

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

“We have different tyre choices, this one will be really dirty on the second pass,” said Neuville. “For the next one I think we have better tyres.

“It’s OK, it’s a dirty road in the morning and we lose a bit of time, but we’re going to push hard.”

Ogier struggled to find the feeling behind the wheel of his GR Yaris but was able to match Neuville’s time to remain 11.6s adrift of the leader.

The stage was won by Katsuta, who took an early lead in the Super Sunday classification. The Toyota driver was 1.8s faster than Fourmaux with Evans third fastest. Tanak was fourth quickest despite battling a stage he claimed was “full of gravel”.

But the rally was turned on its head in stage 18 [Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec, 14.24km] as Neuville, Evans and Fourmaux all hit trouble.

Fourmaux was the first to make an error as he clipped an anti-cut device, which damaged his front right. The M-Sport driver pulled off the road to fix the car and eventually reached the stage end after losing more than 16 minutes.

“After a corner I snapped the steering arm, sometimes it bends, sometimes it breaks,” said Fourmaux. “This time it breaks. We need to score some points today, so we need to regroup and look forward to the Power Stage.”

Tanak also had what he called “more than a moment” running off the road, on his way to winning the stage, but he fared much better than lead duo Evans and Neuville.

Evans clipped a bank with the left rear of his GR Yaris, which pitched the car into a spin, costing the Welshman a vital 19.6s.

“It was just a slippery place, hit the rear hard on the left and it just took off and spun the car unfortunately,” said Evans.

Minutes later, rally leader Neuville ran into a bank, this time with the right rear of his i20 N, resulting in damage to the front and rear wing. The Belgian, who dropped 23.3s to third overall, blamed the incident on a late pacenote.

“There was a lot of corners, when I got the pacenote it was far too late,” said Neuville. “We lost 20 seconds to Ogier so it’s a shame because everything was going well.”

Ogier was third fastest in the stage but inherited the lead ahead of a repeat of the morning stages, which will conclude the rally.

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The unusual extra motivational bet that capped Neuville’s WRC Croatia display

Neuville’s co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe put down a proposition on the event’s recce after noticing that the final stage of the Saturday morning and afternoon loop featured a 9.11km stage.

Wydaeghe suggested that if Neuville posted two fastest times on the passes through the stage then he would buy a Porsche 911.

While Neuville was already eyeing the stage wins to help extend his lead in an intense head-to-head with Evans, the Belgian duly delivered two committed runs to win the stages on his way to opening up a slender 4.9s overall lead.

“It started on the recce because the last stage of the Saturday loop is 9.11km so I said at the start if you are able to do two fastest times on that stage, I was to buy a [Porsche] 911, but that was maybe a most stupid decision I took in my life. Let’s see [what happens],” Neuville’s co-driver Wydaeghe told Autosport.

“Of course, my target was to take the two fastest times in that stage that was clear but not for any prize,” smiled Neuville. “I knew if I did a good stage the time would be good, and we did a good stage and it was a bit messy towards the end as the hard tyre didn’t work but I was very happy when we got the message that we were fastest.

“I think everybody knew [what we were doing].”

Neuville’s efforts topped a faultless drive across Saturday’s eight stages, of which he set fastest times in five of the tests, amid a relentless battle with Evans, with the pair never split by more than 4.9s, having started the day tied for the lead.

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

“It is tough,” said Neuville when asked about the battle. “You know when the countdown clock goes down you know you are going for a real battle.

“I remember rallies of the past and now it is not like you can be a bit more careful on a few corners you have to be perfect everywhere. You cannot just say let’s brake five metres more early you need to be flat out on every corner without making a mistake, it is tough.”

Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul praised Neuville for his efforts behind the wheel but admitted there were plenty of nervous team members watching Saturday’s final stage as he attempted to win the challenge set by Wydaeghe.    

“I think the relationship between Thierry and Martijn is really nice to see,” Abiteboul told Autosport. 

“I think he was prepared to elevate the risk level at the end of the stage simply for the gamble with Martijn.

“We were all smiling, laughing, holding our breath and biting our nails as we could see that he was pushing very hard. I think it is good as you need to want something in sport today. I think Thierry wants it more than other drivers.

“We have a few cars in the Rally1 category but my gosh the level of competitiveness is mind blowing and indeed this fight between Thierry and Elfyn has bene pretty amazing, so hats off to Toyota and Elfyn they have been fantastic competitors, and they will remain to be tomorrow.

“It is super tight, but we got those provisional [178] points tonight which is great and a fantastic reward for Thierry and Martijn. It is clear they want to win this rally.”

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Relentless Neuville fends off Evans to hold narrow lead

The title rivals were locked in a titanic scrap across the day’s eight stages, which saw the lead change hands and the margin between the pair never exceeding five seconds, having started Saturday tied on overall times.

A maximum attack approach, assisted by a beneficial tyre call in unpredictable weather, ultimately resulted in Hyundai driver Neuville ending the day with a 4.9s lead from Evans. The pair picked up 18 and 15 provisional championship points respectively, which can be collected if they finish the rally on Sunday.

Eight-time world champion and part-time Toyota driver Sebastien Ogier kept himself in the victory battle, 11.6s adrift in third, scooping up 13 points. Hyundai’s Ott Tanak held fourth [+1m15.5s] to claim 10 points ahead of M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux [+1m35.4s], who snared a provisional eight points.

Threatening skies again put the focus on tyres for Saturday’s afternoon loop as Toyota clearly expected rain, selecting four soft and two wets as the package for its three GR Yaris entries.

Hyundai and M-Sport were more conservative, opting to take hard-, soft- and wet-compound rubber in case the rain didn’t arrive.

Light rain greeted the crews ahead of Stage 13 [Smerovisce-Grdanjci -15.72 km] before the shower became increasingly heavier, which played into Toyota’s hands.

Evans took advantage of the changeable weather and a stage win duly followed as he re-took the overall lead from Neuville in the process by a margin of two seconds. Evans was however unsure if the tyre call would pay off for the remainder of the loop.

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

Neuville dropped 6.7s to stage winner Evans, who took the stage by a second from team-mate Ogier.

“I pushed very hard and tried to carry on, I knew we were losing time, but we limited the time loss. It’ll be difficult [to bring it back],” said Neuville.

M-Sport’s Fourmaux also bore the brunt of a wrong tyre decision as the Frenchman ceded 15.5s to the lead group.

“I’m not happy. I don’t understand how we can be so bad. We have a lot of data and yet we cannot make a good tyre choice. It’s so disappointing,” said Fourmaux.

Tanak also endured tyre woes, revealing that he had a moment due to the lack of grip on the stage.

However, the tide turned in favour of Hyundai and M-Sport after stage 14 [Stojdraga-Gornja Vas 20.77km]. The early runners encountered a damp start to the stage, but the road surface would become drier by the time the leaders tackled the test.

This benefitted the hard-tyre-shod Neuville, and despite a late shower that threatened to thwart his run, he responded with an impressive stage win to snatch the lead back from Evans.

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: Toyota Racing

A committed Neuville stopped the clocks 3.9s faster than Ogier and 4.3s quicker than Evans. The net result was Neuville leaving the stage with a 2.3s lead over Evans.

“When we found out there could be rain at the end, we just went flat out,” he said.

While Neuville’s risk-filled run paid off, team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen was caught out by a tight left resulting in his i20 N understeering into a bank. Luckily, the low-speed impact didn’t cause any damage, but on the final stage, he suffered a delaminating tyre.

The weather pendulum continued to swing in Hyundai’s favour as the field welcomed a dry road and no sign of rain for the penultimate stage [Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa — 8.78km].

Once again, the hard-tyre-shod Neuville prevailed but the Belgian revealed his run to a stage win was “on the edge”. Neuville pipped Ogier by 1.6s and was a tenth faster than Evans as this relentless scrap for the victory took another twist.

Tanak was the best of the rest, posting the fourth fastest, having conceded that there was nothing to fight for, sitting in a relatively comfortable fourth overall.

Neuville completed Saturday in style by winning stage 16 [Pecurkovo Brdo – Mreznicki Novaki – 9.11km] to claim his ninth fastest time, pipping Ogier by 0.5s after a faultless run. The time was enough to extend his overall lead to 4.9s after Evans reached the stage end 0.9s adrift. 

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: McKlein / Motorsport Images

In WRC2, Nikolay Gryazin maintained his lead of the second-tier class from Citroen team-mate Yohan Rossel.

Four more stages await the crews on Sunday.

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Neuville edges clear of Evans, Ogier in pursuit

Neuville and Evans started the day tied for the lead after ending Friday on identical times, and the fiercely competitive battle continued across the morning’s four stages.

But it was championship points leader Neuville who had the measure of the Welshman to move into a 4.7s lead as the crews headed for service.

Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier ensured the battle for victory remained between three drivers as the eight-time world champion held third 11.3 adrift of Neuville. Hyundai’s Ott Tanak maintained fourth [+52.2s] ahead of M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux [+1m06.4s]. Takamoto Katsuta [+1m56.5s], Andreas Mikkelsen [+3m14.0s] and Gregoire Munster [+3m58.0s] rounded out the top eight.      

The expected rain showers stayed away from the stages but there were spots of moisture in the air as the crews tackled stage nine [Smerovisce – Grdanjci — 15.72km].

With the road order reversed, the leaders faced the dirtiest road conditions but it seemingly didn’t affect joint rally leaders Neuville and Evans significantly.

While the pair started the day deadlocked, it was Neuville who edged clear into an 0.8s outright lead.

Despite facing the worst of the road conditions, Neuville delivered an inspired run to post a time 0.5s adrift of M-Sport’s Fourmaux, who claimed his first stage win of the event to date.

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

Evans admitted he was “a little bit steady” during his pass that was 1.3s slower than Fourmaux. It proved to be a contested stage with Fourmaux, Neuville, Ogier, Tanak, Evans and the improving Mikkelsen covered by 4.2s.

Conditions remained dry by the time the crews reached stage 10, the longest of the loop.

Once again Neuville and Evans couldn’t be split as the duo posted identical times through the 20.77km Stojdraga — Gornja Vas test as Neuville held onto to his 0.8s rally lead.

The stage was won by Ogier, who stepped up his charge to reel in Neuville and Evans. The Toyota driver took 0.3s out of the pair to cut the deficit to 6.8s to remain firmly in the victory hunt.

Katsuta produced his best drive of the event to date to end the stage 0.4s but remained in a distant sixth overall.

There was however a small drama for Tanak who drifted wide at a left hander and clipped his right rear on a kerb. It appeared the incident didn’t cost the Hyundai driver too much time despite ending the stage with the wheel slightly bent. The Estonian was however quicker than Fourmaux to extend the gap in the fight for fourth to 11.6s.    

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Neuville grabbed the headlines in stage 11 by chalking up his fifth stage win of the event after edging rally rival Evans by 0.9s. Evans admitted it wasn’t an easy task managing his tyre choice of three softs, two wets and one hard given the absence of the forecast rain.

“0.9s is a lot, I’m really happy. I don’t think I could go any faster in there,” said Neuville, who moved into a 1.7s overall lead.

Third-placed Ogier dropped 1.6s to Neuville in the stage that included what he described as a “very close call” over a jump early in the test, that resulted in some damage to the front of the GR Yaris.

Tanak was only a tenth slower than Ogier as the Hyundai driver showed much stronger pace compared to Friday. 

However, Neuville saved his best display until the final stage of the loop outlining the work he had achieved in preserving his rubber.

The Belgian produced a committed effort which was rewarded with a time 2.9s faster than Ogier and 3.0s quicker than Tanak and Evans. Ogier managed to log his time despite being forced to run a wet tyre on the rear of his car to reduce the puncture risk on one worn tyre in his package.

“Quite a decent stage, the onboard must be really cool. We had a better tyre management of the loop and kept good profiles of the tyres,” said Neuville.

Evans added: “It was really slippery and I wasn’t so happy with my run to be honest.”

The battle for fourth took another swing towards Tanak as Fourmaux reported a misfire from his Ford Puma’s engine during the stage.

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In WRC2, Nikolay Gryazin continued to lead the class form Citroen team-mate Yohan Rossel by a margin of 59.9s.  

The crews will repeat the stages this afternoon to conclude Saturday’s leg.

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