Rovanpera triumphs in bursting Croatian clouds
The Finn led from the start of the three-day rally in the hills around Zagreb in his Toyota GR Yaris, only for a storm in the penultimate speed stage to wipe out his hard-earned advantage.
A reborn Ott Tänak, whose bet on softer Pirelli tires gave his Hyundai i20 N a performance advantage on the slippery asphalt, took a 1.4 second lead.
The pendulum swung back towards Rovanperä as the drier roads of the final Wolf Power Stage offered hope, but the odds remained firmly in Tänak’s favor as mud and dirt littered the final 14.09 kilometres.
Rovanperä threw caution to the wind and remarkably reversed the deficit to claim back-to-back FIA World Rally Championship victories by 4.3 seconds. Victory extended its points lead to 29 after three rounds of the 13-event season.
He had dominated the first stages of the event and was almost 90 seconds ahead before falling into the clutches of Tänak following a puncture on Saturday morning. He rebuilt his lead to half a minute until the deluge staged a jaw-dropping final.
“I was sure we couldn’t be that fast with these tyres, but it’s amazing,” smiled Rovanperä. “We pushed really hard and I think we deserved it this weekend. For sure it’s the toughest win of my career.”
It’s a disappointing result for Tänak, whose winning drought dates back to February 2021. “I didn’t take any risks but Kalle obviously had a good drive,” he said. “We are fighting for the win, but only through smart decisions and tire choices.”
The Estonian finished 2min 16.7sec behind his teammate Thierry Neuville. The Belgian fended off Craig Breen on the final morning to clinch a podium despite a scorching weekend that would have forced many to retire.
He and his co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe were close to collapsing after pushing their car 800 meters into service on Friday after stopping with alternator problems.
Time penalties and speeding fines set them back further and they nearly gave up a podium in view of the finish after hitting an embankment and nearly rolling.
Breen survived a go-around and a spin to take fourth place in a Ford Puma. The Irishman fended off a closing Elfyn Evans, whose fifth place marked the first final point of the year for the GR Yaris rider. Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta was a distant sixth in another Yaris.
Video: Rally Croatia – Wolf Power Stage
The tricky asphalt, combined with heavy rain and fog, proved very attritional and the rest of the standings were taken up by drivers from the WRC2 support category.
Yohan Rossel finished seventh ahead of Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Emil Lindholm. A poor tire choice cost Nikolay Gryazin valuable time in the closing stages and he fell two places to 10th.
The series switches to gravel for the first time in 2022 at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. The fourth round will take place in Matosinhos from May 19-22.