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2024 WRC Croatia Rally | 7 talking points

22nd April 2024
Ben Miles

Croatia Rally 2024 was one of the best rallies in recent memory. A ding-dong battle for the lead only decided by a chaotic penultimate stage, and out of it all came that man Sébastien Ogier for his 59th win and his 100th podium. Here’s a breathless rundown of the biggest WRC talking points of the weekend.

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Talk of the WRC’s demise is greatly exaggerated

The 2024 Croatia Rally was possibly one of the all-time greats. Yes the chaos that came on stage 19 robbed us of a grandstand finish, but with Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville trading the lead stage-after-stage for two days and Sebastien Ogier hunting just behind, it was hard to take your eyes off the WRC.

That Sunday morning stage delivered something only rallying can – chaos so sudden that even the television teams have no idea what’s going on. Somehow at almost exactly the same time both Evans and Neuville flung their cars at the scenery, just after fifth-placed Adrien Formaux had clipped one of Croatia’s giant metal anti-cut devices. Formaux fixed his battered Puma stageside, but was sent totally out of overall contention. Neuville got to the end of the stage but had lost the important bits of his rear wing. Evans escaped seemingly unscathed, but now several seconds down on his team-mate Ogier.

Whether or not you think the current cars and rules are good, you cannot deny that they are delivering some nail-biting action and four different winners from four rallies.

Ogier still the master

As everyone pushed for their much-needed Saturday and Sunday points, the man who many (me included) deem the greatest rally driver of all time, Sébastien Ogier, just kept on doing what he does. A bad road position on Friday wasn’t enough to put the Frenchman out of contention, and he stayed within a few seconds of the championship contenders through Saturday. When Neuville and Evans imploded on Sunday Ogier was there to step in and take the lead. Ogier will never match the statistics laid down by his countryman Seb Loeb, but he shows event after event why he deserves to be considered the best.

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Evans vs Neuville fight is going to be a belter

While the events have been good, the WRC has struggled for any real interest in its championship fight for the last couple of years. The coming of age of Kalle Rovanperä, a generational rallying talent, and Ogier’s full-time retirement meant 2022 and 2023 didn’t really have a title race. Rovanperä was just a league ahead.

But now Rovanperä has stepped away and multiple bridesmaids Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville are presented with their best chance ever to finally clinch that crown. Neuville has won one rally, Evans none, but both are pulling clear of the rest of the field and are going head-to-head for victory. With just six points between them, we’re set for a barnstorming season.

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Formaux is finding his feet

Yes, he made a mistake on Saturday morning and dropped out of overall top five contention. But four rallies into his return to the top level we seem to be seeing a new Adrien Formaux. Last chance he got in a Rally1 car, Formaux ended up working at M-Sport’s Cumbria factory helping to fix his machines, so bad did he feel after rolling them several times into non-Puma shapes.

But in 2024, the reigning British Rally Champion is a new man. Two podium finishes in a row were followed by a strong run in Croatia where he picked up more Saturday points and a power stage victory. M-Sport would admit it does not have the budget to match its OEM rivals, but Formaux is keeping a world champion behind him in the standings and staying consistent. His heroic fix stageside on round 19 followed by winning the power stage showcases that the new Formaux is a force. Once he gets his first rally win, who knows where he will go?

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Tänak fast but not quite back to his best

Speaking of that World Champion. What is going on with Ott Tänak? Fourth, retired, eighth and fourth is not the return we would expect from the 2019 WRC champion. He is clearly still fast, just look at his spectacular save that went almost forgotten amid the chaos of SS19 and his stage win on 18. But the Estonian seems to be lacking something extra to get on a par with Neuville.

Tänak’s career has swung back and forth since he left Toyota as the champion. Unhappy at Hyundai at first, unable to do much with M-Sport’s Puma and now back for a second go at Hyundai. It feels like Tänak’s mind might not be quite in the position it once was. If Hyundai is going to mount a real championship challenge, it will need Tänak to find what he needs to support, and soon.

There is hope, at the end of the final stage Tänak spoke of how he was looking forward to the upcoming gravel rallies. Hopefully as we enter Tänak territory he’ll get back on form.

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Croatia deserves its place on the WRC

Spectacular scenery, fast roads that just assaulted the drivers, huge cuts, massive challenges of dirt being dragged on line and big crowds. Croatia Rally showed why it has retained its place on the WRC calendar for the last four years.

Some in the local area might not have welcomed the teams to Zagreb in the way other nations have, but the size of crowds in large fan areas rally-side was a showcase that there is a lot of love for rallying in Eastern Europe. With familiarity with some of the stages has come a rise in commitment from the drivers, making it an even better show.

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New points system still impossible to follow

The Rally.TV app, which is WRC Promotor’s latest way to watch every rally, has no way of showcasing who is leading the Sunday standings. And that is just one showcase of how hard to follow the new WRC points system is.

Without getting a calculator out and bringing up individual stage times, there’s currently very little way of working out how the points are going to go until the WRC itself updates the standings at the end of the rally. Maybe that’s a good thing, as we can concentrate on the rally itself and think about the long term later, but in what is set to be the tightest season for years, it would be nice to understand what’s actually going on. Who on earth knew that Takamoto Katsuta was winning those Sunday points? And did you know Evans and Neuville walked away with the same number of points?

But it creates a good spectacle

That said, the need to push through Saturday and Sunday for points is partly why we’ve seen such a spectacular set of rallies so far this year. On Sunday the drivers now need to push to make sure they add extra numbers to their tally, they can’t just cruise to the Power Stage and hope to nick some extra points there. The new system needs to be explained better, especially on the WRC’s own app and in TV coverage, but it’s doing its job so far.

Photography by Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool.

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