Elfyn Evans stormed to victory at Croatia Rally on Sunday afternoon, soaring to the top of the FIA World Rally Championship standings in the process.
An error from Thierry Neuville on Saturday morning propelled the Welshman to first overall, and he distanced himself from M-Sport Ford Puma driver Ott Tänak across the rest of the rally to win by 27.0sec in a Toyota GR Yaris.
The triumph, his first since Secto Rally Finland in 2021 and the first of his career on asphalt, elevated Evans from fifth to equal-first in the drivers’ championship standings. He is tied on points with Sébastien Ogier after round four of 13, with Kalle Rovanperä just a single point behind and Tänak three more in arrears.
“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, referencing the passing of friend and driver Craig Breen.
“After the focus of the weekend, we’re all back to missing our friend now. Straightaway after coming across the finish line, that’s all we can think about. We promised Craig’s family we would enjoy the weekend, and we’ve done that. We’re all thinking of them right now.”
His Toyota Gazoo Racing team preserved its unbeaten Croatia Rally record whilst also increasing its manufacturers’ championship lead over Hyundai Motorsport to 29 points.
The season’s first pure asphalt fixture delivered tremendous action, and Tänak looked set to become a real threat to Evans as he set a furious pace early on Saturday afternoon. However, a transmission issue later on the penultimate day obstructed the Estonian’s charge and he cruised to the finish 31.6sec clear of Esapekka Lappi.
Lappi lacked confidence on some of the dirtier sections of road, but consistency rewarded him with his first Hyundai i20 N podium – a welcome boost after crashing out from the lead in the previous round.
Behind him were a trio of Toyotas headed by defending champion Rovanperä, 19.7sec in arrears. The Finn had languished outside of the top ten after changing a wheel in SS2 on Friday, but hauled himself back up the leaderboard with an impressive recovery drive. He surpassed Sébastien Ogier on the final morning to claim fourth overall, edging his team-mate by just 9.7sec.
Ogier, who solely led the championship before this rally, was left to rue what could have been. Although he trailed victor Evans by 1min28.0sec at the finish, he also stopped to change a wheel whilst leading on Friday and received further blows in the form of time penalties. In total, the time loss amounted to roughly two-and-a-half minutes.
Takamoto Katsuta made it four Toyotas in the top six ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet, who nursed his Puma to the finish with bent steering. WRC2 winner Yohan Rossel, Nikolay Gryazin and Oliver Solberg completed the leaderboard.
The series returns to gravel next month for Vodafone Rally de Portugal. The fifth round is based at Matosinhos on 11 – 14 May.
1. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris 2hr 50min 54.3sec
2. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Puma +27.0sec
3. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Hyundai i20 N +58.6sec
4. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +1min 18.3sec
5. S Ogier / V Landais FRA Toyota GR Yaris +1min 28.0sec
6. T Katsuta / A Johnston JPN Toyota GR Yaris +2min 22.5sec