Elfyn Evans won the Croatia Rally on Sunday afternoon and rocketed to the top of the standings in the FIA World Rally Championship as a result of his triumph.
A mistake made by Thierry Neuville on Saturday morning let the Welshman in first place overall, and he continued to pull away from the M-Sport Ford Puma driver Ott Tanak during the rest of the rally to win by 27.0 seconds in a Toyota GR Yaris.
As a result of the victory, which was Evans’ first on asphalt and his first win overall since the Secto Rally Finland in 2021, he moved up from the fifth spot to equal first place in the standings for the drivers’ championship. After four of 13 rounds, he is tied on points with Sébastien Ogier, with Kalle Rovanpera just one point behind and Tanak three points further behind.
“Obviously we’ve been working towards this for a long time, but it all feels so insignificant at the moment – that’s the bottom line,” said Evans, pointing to the demise of friend and driver Craig Breen. “It all feels so insignificant at the moment,”
“Now that the weekend’s adventures are behind us, we can all return our attention to missing our friend. As soon as we crossed the finish line, that was the only thing that could enter our minds. We made a promise to Craig’s family that we would have a good time during the weekend, and we have kept that promise. Right now, each and every one of us is considering them.
His Toyota Gazoo Racing squad maintained its perfect record at the Croatia Rally and increased its lead in the manufacturers’ title over Hyundai Motorsport to 29 points.
Tanak appeared to be on his way to being a real threat to Evans as he set a blazing pace early on Saturday afternoon during the season’s first event that took place entirely on asphalt, which produced terrific action. However, a transmission problem later on the penultimate day prevented the Estonian from making a charge, and Esapekka Lappi was able to keep up with him as he glided to the finish 31.6 seconds ahead.
Although Lappi lacked confidence on some of the dirtier areas of the road, his consistent driving earned him a spot on the podium for the first time in the Hyundai i20 N. This was a good lift for Lappi after he crashed out of the lead position in the previous round.
Following him were three Toyotas, the leader of which was the defending champion, Rovanpera. They were 19.7 seconds behind him. After having to change a wheel during Stage 2 on Friday, the Finn found himself outside of the top ten in the overall standings, but he managed to climb back up the leaderboard with an outstanding recovery effort. On the final morning of the competition, he moved up to fourth place overall by passing Sébastien Ogier and won by a narrow margin of 9.7 seconds over his teammate.
Ogier, who had been in sole possession of the lead in the championship prior to this rally, was left to lament what could have been. In spite of the fact that he finished in second place, 1 minute and 28.0 seconds behind the winner Evans, he suffered additional setbacks on Friday when he stopped to change a wheel while in the lead and was given time penalties as a result. The amount of time that was lost was around two minutes and fifty seconds in total.
Four Toyotas finished in the top six, including Takamoto Katsuta, who finished ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who nursed his Puma to the finish despite having bent steering. Yohan Rossel, winner of WRC2, Nikolay Gryazin, and Oliver Solberg rounded up the first three positions on the standings.
The gravel portion of the series will resume the month after next at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. The fifth and final round will take place from May 11 to May 14 in Matosinhos.