Evans dedicates win to Breen after Rally Croatia triumph

Elfyn Evans ended his long wait for a WRC win -  and immediately dedicated the triumph to Craig Breen

Elfyn Evans ended his long wait for a WRC win – and immediately dedicated the triumph to Craig Breen

Elfyn Evans maintained his overnight advantage to win Rally Croatia and move joint top of the World Rally Championship standings.

In highly emotional scenes at the finish, Evans dedicated his victory to Craig Breen, who recently lost his life in a testing accident in preparing for the fourth round of the season.

Over the final four stages on Sunday, Evans and Toyota Yaris co-driver Scott Martin avoided any mistakes to complete a 27-second victory ahead of Ott Tanak.

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Esapekka Lappi completed the podium for a Hyundai team struggling to come to terms with the loss of their driver Breen less than two weeks ago.

“It feels so insignificant now, that’s the bottom line,” Evans said after he completed the power stage with the seventh fastest time to secure his first WRC victory since Rally Finland in October 2021.

“Obviously we’ve been working for this for a long time but it’s surprising how little it means just at the moment. We’re back to missing our friend now after the real focus of the weekend.

“Straight away, when you come across the finish line, that’s all you can think about.

“We promised the family we would enjoy the weekend. We’ve done that. I’m sure they were following us. We are definitely thinking of you.”

Tanak missing consistency

Welshman Evans, who lost out on winning the first Rally Croatia to count for the WRC in 2021 by 0.6s, becomes the third winner of the Zagreb-based event since it joined the series two seasons ago.

He follows his Toyota team-mates Sebastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanpera in winning a rally that is quickly cementing its reputation as one of the most demanding on the calendar, due to its low and inconsistent grip stages.

For Tanak, the result marked his second consecutive runner-up finish in Croatia after he lost out to Rovanpera in a final-stage decider 12 months ago. He remains firmly in the championship fight, however, just four points behind joint leaders Ogier and Evans.

“Result-wise it’s a lot for sure,” the M-Sport driver said. “For sure we are missing a lot of consistency and quite a lot of performance as well. No speed really but again good points so hopefully the speed will follow at some moment.”

Lappi’s third place – his first podium in Hyundai colours – came at the end of a difficult week for the Finn, who struggled for confidence on the slippery Croatian stages.

In an address to his team, he said: “It was not easy to come here for most of us. Thank you that you came, you give us the opportunity to drive again.

“I know it was tough, it’s been really tough, the toughest week ever I guess.

“We kept our heads together. With a smart drive, we managed to be on the podium, which is very important for me and for the team this week.”

Rovanpera wait continues

Rovanpera began the final leg two seconds behind Ogier in the battle for fourth but he outgunned the Frenchman on the final day to finish 9.7s clear, and 19.7s behind third-placed Lappi.

It was a rally of playing catch-up for world champion Rovanpera and eight-time title winner Ogier after they both broke a front-left wheel on the same corner on Friday’s second stage. Ogier then picked up 70 seconds in time penalties.

By coming home one minute and 28 seconds behind Evans, it was a case of what might have been for Ogier, whose partial season is set to resume with Rally Italia Sardegna in June.

For Rovanpera, his wait for a first win of 2023 goes on but he will take heart from the fact he is only a point off the championship lead and will leave it to Evans to open the road on the next round in Portugal.

Takamoto Katsuta completed the top six, with Pierre-Louis Loubet overcoming an engine issue and bent steering to finish seventh.

PH Sport’s Yohan Rossel won WRC2 in eighth overall aboard his upgraded Citroen C3 Rally2 followed by Nikolay Gryazin, who claimed the runner-up spot in WRC2 and the WRC2 Challenger victory.

Oliver Solberg completed the top 10 but as he was not registered for WRC2 points in Croatia, third-place class points went to his Toksport Skoda team-mate Emil Lindholm, the defending category champion.

Neuville regrets missed opportunity for Breen

Thierry Neuville restarted following his crash during stage 11 on day two, and went quickest on the power stage as his gamble to save approximately 40 kilograms of weight by not carrying any spare tyres on board his factory Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, combined with a blistering run, paid off.

“I’m so disappointed for the team, for us after all about what happened [not to win the rally],” he said.

“It’s a tough moment. We really wanted that victory. We wanted to make Craig proud for everything. We missed the opportunity, unfortunately.

“We always have to give more than 100 percent and when you are on the limit you cannot avoid such mistakes and it’s very tough. We gave it everything here and this one was for Craig.”

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