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Croatia Rally – Day Two Report

• Hyundai Motorsport continues to hold second place in Croatia Rally, round three of the 2022 FIA World Rally Championship, with a reduced gap of 19.9 seconds to the leading crew
• Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja head up the team’s charge, with fourth-placed Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe still in podium contention despite incurring numerous time penalties
• Oliver Solberg and Elliott Edmondson went off the road in slippery conditions on the opening stage, forcing the crew to retire from the rally.

Hyundai Motorsport has completed the penultimate day of Croatia Rally, the third round of the 2022 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), with an eye on outright victory after Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja closed the gap to 19.9 seconds on Saturday.

The Estonians continued to hold second place, which they held overnight, but made up over one minute of time over leader Kalle Rovanperä in the morning loop, as inclement weather continued to cause disruption on dirty, slippery tarmac roads.

Saturday’s itinerary was set to cover two loops of four stages, starting with the event’s longest individual test – the 23.76km Kostanjevac-Petruš Vrh (SS9/SS13) route. Crews then contested Jaškovo-Mali Modruš Potok (10.10km, SS10/SS14) before making the long journey to Platak (15.85km, SS11/SS15), almost 93km liaison distance away. Returning for the loop’s concluding stage, Vinski Vrh–Duga Resa (8.78km, SS12/SS16), it was another intense schedule for all crews.

Unpredictable and varied conditions only added to the demands, as tyre choice proved to be hugely influential. Tänak secured an emphatic stage win on the morning run through Platak after masterfully managing the tricky conditions with wet weather Pirelli tyres. Rovanperä, meanwhile, picked up a puncture, which allowed the #8 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 crew to slash the deficit to 18.2 seconds, having started the day 1m23s behind. The scheduled repeat of Platak, as SS15, was cancelled due to fog and visibility issues.

Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe, who had put in a heroic performance on Friday just to make it back to service, were handed a retrospective one-minute time penalty for a speed infringement on SS4. Dropping to fourth overall, even before turning a wheel on Saturday, the Belgians endured further frustration after a hybrid issue caused them to be late to check-in for the day’s opening stage, incurring another time penalty. The crew retained their usual fighting spirit, taking a stage win in SS12 and two second-fastest times to reduce the disadvantage to third-placed Craig Breen to 4.9 seconds.

Saturday had barely started for Oliver Solberg and Elliott Edmondson before the tricky conditions saw them spin out of contention 3.9km into the opening stage. The crew were thankfully uninjured, but heat from the exhaust caused the car to catch fire and, although it was quickly extinguished, it triggered the red light on the hybrid unit. Consequently, the car had to be quarantined and go through the FIA’s stringent safety procedures. Upon subsequent inspection, it was confirmed that the crew would not be able to resume their rally on Sunday.

Crew Notes: Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (#8 Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
• Impressive performance in wet SS11 secured stage win for the Estonians
• Gap to leader Rovanperä cut to 19.9 seconds

Tänak said: “It was no easier today than it was yesterday with some incredibly difficult stages, including one much further away (Platak). In the morning, we had some concerns that it might rain there, so we took wet weather tyres for the loop – a gamble that paid off. This afternoon, we tried our best but there wasn’t the confidence nor feeling that we needed to go to the limit. In the end, Rovanperä made a strong statement, so we’ll have to see what’s possible tomorrow. In a way, it’s good he’s having to push because it means we’re putting some pressure on. Hopefully, it will be a cleaner day and we can find something overnight. I am not happy with second place, but the extra risk might not pay dividends, so we have to avoid having any tricky moments.”

Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (#11 Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
• Despite numerous time penalties, the Belgians kept focus to remain in podium contention
• Stage win in SS12 and competitive afternoon loop run closed gap to third to 4.9 seconds

Neuville said: “At the end of this penultimate day, we have closed in on third place, so our target now is to end up on the podium. We did what we could today. We lost a bit of time this afternoon with a small engine-related issue in SS13, but otherwise the loop went well. The engine power was limited; the throttle wasn’t opening more than 40%, mainly in the final kilometres, so we lost some seconds there. I am not normally a guy who takes big risks, I prefer to control things, but I feel that we can push a bit harder if we need to. I tried this afternoon, and we could catch back some good time, so let’s fight for it tomorrow.”

Crew Notes: Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (#2 Hyundai i20 N Rally1)
• Crash on opening stage of the day forced the crew’s Croatia Rally to an early end
• The pair are unable to resume on Sunday morning

Solberg said: “Unfortunately, this morning didn’t go to plan. On the first stage of the day, we lost the rear of the car on a muddy left turn, over a crest, and went off the road. It wasn’t dramatic at first. The rear went a bit wide, and I thought it would be a normal slide, but it snapped, and we ended up in a tree. We were unlucky that the hot exhaust caused a fire in the back of the car and caused a lot of damage. Thanks to the organisers for putting it out. I am sorry it happened but it’s part of our learning. This has been one of the most difficult rallies I have ever done, crazy demanding, but we have lots more experience now to prepare us better for the future.”

Deputy Team Director Julien Moncet said: “Quite an interesting day with mixed fortunes. Ott is just 20 seconds from the lead; it will be difficult to catch Rovanperä but we have to keep up the pressure. You never know what might happen on the final stages. He and Martin have put in a strong and consistent performance today. Thierry started the day with some issues getting out of service, and then lost some engine power in the afternoon, which we cured. Despite his issues, it was a very commanding performance and he’s now close to the podium. On the downside, Oliver spun on the opening stage. Damage on the exhaust caused a fire and the incident also triggered the hybrid red light, which put us into the FIA safety procedure. The car is still in quarantine to make sure it’s safe to work on, but due to the issues we have made the decision to retire the crew from this rally.”

Sunday at a Glance
• Four stages will be held on Sunday, two passes of the 13.15km Trakošćan-Vrbno and 14.09km Zagorska Sela-Kumrovec loop
• A total of 54.48km of special stages will take place on the final day, but all is still to fight for in what has been an unpredictable Croatia Rally.

Classification after Day Two

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 2:14:54.5
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +19.9
3 C. Breen P. Nagle Ford Puma Rally1 +1:13.4
4 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +1:18.3
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +2.08.2
6 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +5:47.7