Five talking points from WRC Croatia and Berlin Formula E
The World Rally Championship was back in action last weekend on Rally Croatia, as Berlin hosted a Formula E double-header. Here’s a round-up of the main talking points.
Mixed emotions for Elfyn Evans
The horror of Craig Breen’s tragic loss in a pre-event testing accident inevitably hung over Rally Croatia, as the WRC crews faced competing in a state of hollow grief. The Irishman was extremely popular and his death has deeply affected everyone in the sport.
Nevertheless, the show must roll on, as it always does in the wake of such devastation, and on the Croatian stages Welshman Elfyn Evans ended his WRC drought with a much-needed victory that has catapulted the Toyota ace from fifth in the points to the top of the standings.
No wonder his emotions were jumbled on Sunday. “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. “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.”
Neuville crashes out
Evans’s first victory since Rally Finland in 2021 and first on an asphalt surface was inherited, but he’ll take them any way they come – especially after such a long dry spell. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville led the way at the end of Friday and stretched his advantage over Evans the following morning until he dropped the ball. The Belgian lost the rear of his i20 N in a right-hander and caught a concrete block, sustaining terminal damage.
Ott Tänak looked set to take the fight to Evans, only for his M-Sport Ford Puma to be hobbled by transmission troubles. The Estonian finished 27sec down on the Toyota GR Yaris, with Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi making it three different makes on the podium. For Lappi, third marked his first podium in the i20 N.
Wheel changes cost Rovanperä and Ogier
Reigning champion and 2022 Croatia Rally winner Kalle Rovanperä was out of contention early this time when the Finn was forced to change a wheel on SS2. He fought back to finish fourth, demoting team-mate and points leader Sébastien Ogier on the final morning. Ogier was also forced to change a wheel on the opening day while leading the way.
Takamoto Katsuta made it four Toyotas in the top six, ahead of M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet, and Yohan Rossel beat Nikolay Gryazin and Oliver Solberg to WRC2 honours.
After four of 13 rallies, Evans is now tied at the top of the standings with Ogier – who is only committed to a part-time campaign in the WRC this year, despite having already won two rounds. Rovanperä has yet to unleash the amazing run of results that took him to a maiden crown last year, but is still only a point off his team-mates, with Tänak three more in arrears. Rally Portugal is next on May 11-14.
Meanwhile in Berlin on the Tempelhof Airport Circuit, Mitch Evans led Sam Bird to land Jaguar a first team 1-2 in Formula E at the end of a frenetic race on Saturday.
The new Gen3 era has really caught alight in recent weeks with a series of thrilling races, and that trend continued emphatically in Berlin. The field managed a remarkable 190 passes and 53 lead changes, with eight different drivers leading the race – all series records.
At the finish, it came down to the two Jaguars and Sebastien Buemi’s Jaguar-powered Envision Virgin entry, with Kiwi Evans gaining the crucial edge as the race went into overtime to take his second consecutive victory. Team-mate Bird then got the better of Buemi, with the Swiss demoted off the podium on the final lap by Maximilian Günther. The German’s home podium marked the first for Maserati MSG Racing – and the first for a Maserati-powered single-seater in a major international motor race since Pedro Rodríguez won the South African Grand Prix in a Cooper propelled by a Maserati V12 in January 1967. That might as well have taken place on a different world from what we know in Formula E.
But the day belonged to Evans and Jaguar. “The last race [in Sao Paulo] was special having us both on the podium and also with Nick [Cassidy, Envision Virgin], all with Jaguar powertrains,” he said. “At this one, it’s extra special because it’s a 1-2 for the team and a really hard race to manage. It got a bit chaotic out there. I wasn’t expecting a victory in this place which has haunted me for many years. So I’m super-happy to get a second win. It’s full credit to everyone. Sam drove really well, he’s been quick all day. I was surprised to get in the front bunch so early. There were a lot of games being played out there and it was hard to manage, but we got it done.”
Cassidy closes on points leader Wehrlein
On Sunday, Jaguar power claimed a third consecutive Formula E victory, as Envision Virgin’s Nick Cassidy grabbed his first of the season and moved to within four points of long-time championship leader Pascal Wehrlein in the second Berlin encounter.
Kiwi Cassidy climbed from eighth on the grid to win a race that this time ‘only’ included 172 passing manoeuvres… As for Wehrlein, he continues to struggle for form after his early-season dominance for Porsche. The ex-Formula 1 driver salvaged a sixth from 15th on the grid in race one, but dropped a place from sixth to seventh in this second German round. That leaves him on 100 points, with Cassidy up to second on 96.
Britain’s Jake Dennis ended his terrible run of non-finishes to score a strong second place for the Andretti team. The winner of the Mexico City season opener is still fourth in the points despite his string of bad luck, just behind Buemi who finished behind him in third in Berlin’s Sunday race. Evans was fourth this time and is fifth in the points.
It’s Monaco next, on the full grand prix circuit, on May 6. Predictions are futile.