Double podium finish for Hyundai in thrilling Croatia Rally

Hyundai Motorsport emerged from a thrilling Croatia Rally with a double podium finish after Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja secured second position ahead of team-mates Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe in third.

On a nail-biting final day of a tense rally weekend, the battle for victory went down to the wire, with Hyundai Motorsport’s Estonian crew taking the lead before the rally-deciding Power Stage. Tänak and Järveoja were eventually beaten to first place by a mere 4,3 seconds.

Sunday’s itinerary covered a repeated loop of two stages – Trakošćan-Vrbno (13,15 km, SS17/SS19) and Zagorska Sela-Kumrovec (14,09 km, SS18/SS20) – covering a distance of just 54,48 km.

Competitors had to negotiate tricky conditions on the second pass through Trakošćan-Vrbno. A shrewd tyre choice by Tänak and the team saw the pair closed a 28.4-second gap to leader Kalle Rovanperä with a sublime performance to take their second stage win of the weekend.

The crew headed into the sunny Power Stage with a narrow 1,4-second advantage. Ultimately, despite a trouble-free run, the pair had to relinquish their brief lead and settle for second spot – securing their first podium finish of the 2022 season.

Neuville, meanwhile, had his sights set on the podium positions after a strong Saturday, which placed him just 4,9 seconds off third-placed Craig Breen. The Belgians overturned the deficit by the end of the opening loop early on Sunday morning with a confident stage win in SS18. The wet penultimate test allowed them to extend their grip on the podium with another assured performance ahead of the final run.

There was more drama to come for the crew, as they pitched their car into a ditch during the Power Stage; they were lucky to escape any significant damage, and nursed their Hyundai i20 N Rally1 back home in third overall – to confirm the team’s first double podium since last year’s Rally de España. It was also Neuville’s 45th individual podium result with Hyundai Motorsport.

After three rounds of the 2022 championship, Hyundai Motorsport has moved up to second place on the manufacturers’ table with 84 points. Neuville still holds second place in the drivers’ title chase, with Tänak moving up to fifth after his strong finish in Croatia, which included four extra Power Stage points.

Crew Notes: Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (#8 Hyundai i20 N Rally1)

Tänak said: “Compared to where we were on Friday evening, where we ended up today was not so bad. In fact, it was more promising than we could have expected at that moment. We were lacking the pace to really compete directly with the other guys, but we were really clever with our tyre choices, which played out well. We were always on the right tyres at the right time, even compared to others. In the end, Kalle had the performance that we were missing, and that’s the area on which we need to focus.”

Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe

Neuville said: “It was far from a trouble-free weekend, which included two minutes of time penalties. On the sporting side, it was a challenging event however, on the driving side, it was enjoyable. The car felt good, the roads were beautiful and it was fun. Despite the issues, we never gave up. We fought hard and at the end the team has been rewarded with a 2-3 result, and strong points for the manufacturers’ championship. We have improved our pace, the car is much nicer to drive and we have taken another step forward.”

Deputy team director Julien Moncet said: “That was an incredible end to the Croatia Rally, and we come away with a double podium result, which is very good for us after a difficult start to the season. We gambled on the tyre choice for this morning’s loops, based on the weather forecast we received. Looking back, it was the right choice and allowed us to be firmly in the victory fight in the Power Stage.

“Ott and Martin have done a great job, but couldn’t fend off the last charge of Rovanperä. There was also a dramatic moment for Thierry and Martijn which they managed well. We struggled at Monte-Carlo, we reacted well with a second place in Sweden, and now we have a double podium, so we are showing improvements.”

Next rally

Action moves back to gravel for the next round of the 2022 FIA World Rally Championship, the Rally de Portugal, which will take place from 19 to 22 May.

Final results in Croatia Rally:

1 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 2:48:21.5
2 O. Tänak M. Järveoja Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +4.3
3 T. Neuville M. Wydaeghe Hyundai i20 N Rally1 +2:21.0
4 C. Breen P. Nagle Ford Puma Rally1 +3:07.3
5 E. Evans S. Martin Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +3:46.0
6 T. Katsuta A. Johnston Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 +8:08.5
7 Y. Rossel V. Sarreaud Citroën C3 Rally2 +10:01.0
8 K. Kajetanowicz M. Szczepaniak Škoda Fabia Evo +11:01.2
9 E. Lindholm R. Hämäläinen Škoda Fabia Evo +11:11.9
10 N. Gryazin K. Aleksandrov Škoda Fabia Evo +11:48.5

Championship for Manufacturers’ standings:

1 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 126
2 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 84
3 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 80
4 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team NG 30

Championship for Drivers’ standings:

1 K. Rovanperä 76
2 T. Neuville 47
3 C. Breen 30
4 S. Loeb 27
5 O. Tänak 27
6 T. Katsuta 26
7 G. Greensmith 20
8 S. Ogier 19
9 E. Evans 17
10 E. Lappi 15
11 A. Mikkelsen 12
12 O. Solberg 8