CROATIA RALLY: Preview TOYOTA GAZOO Racing back in action on challenging Croatian roads
The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team will aim to build upon its positive start to the FIA World Rally Championship’s new hybrid era when the 2022 season resumes for round three at the Croatia Rally on April 22-24.
The team currently leads the manufacturers’ championship with Kalle Rovanperä heading the drivers’ standings after claiming the first victory for the GR YARIS Rally1 on the previous round in Sweden in February. Elfyn Evans has been among the pacesetters so far and will be keen to get back on the podium in Croatia, where he was part of a thrilling final-stage showdown with team-mate Sébastien Ogier when the country made its WRC debut one year ago.
With the event not forming part of Ogier’s programme of selected rallies for 2022, Esapekka Lappi again completes the TGR WRT line-up after finishing third on his comeback in Sweden. Fourth in Sweden was Takamoto Katsuta, who continues his full campaign with TGR WRT Next Generation on a rally he claimed two stage wins on in 2021.
After the two winter rounds in Monte Carlo and Sweden, Croatia provides the first pure asphalt test for the new Rally1 cars. The event is based out of the capital city Zagreb with the stages taking place close to neighbouring Slovenia. The roads are characterised by a wide variety of different asphalt types, meaning grip levels are constantly changing. Many sections are fast and flowing and include jumps and crests, while others are more technical and twisting.
Following shakedown on Thursday morning and a ceremonial start in Zagreb in the evening, the rally begins on Friday with the longest leg of the event, consisting of two loops of four stages all familiar from the 2021 event. Much of Saturday takes place in similar territory just to the south-west of Zagreb, but there is also a longer trip towards the Adriatic coast near Rijeka for the new Platak stage. As on Friday, all four stages are repeated after midday service. The final day takes place to the north of the capital and includes another new stage, Trakošćan – Vrbno, which is run twice together with Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec, host to the rally-ending Power Stage.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)
“The first two events of the season with the new regulations were very intense and the break in the schedule has given us the chance to evaluate what we have learned and to keep developing the GR YARIS Rally1. We had some test days on gravel in Sardinia and then the pre-event test in Croatia last week. Until now, a lot of the focus has been on reliability and the function of the hybrid system, but now we can really work on optimising the setup of the car and trying to make it even stronger. The big challenge in Croatia is that the asphalt surface is often changing during the stages and the level of grip differs a lot. I think this surprised many drivers last year and those going back for a second time will know what to expect. Kalle didn’t do so many kilometres last year but knows it’s important to keep scoring points, Elfyn was so close to winning in 2021 and will want to get a strong result, and then for Esapekka the rally is completely new. So our drivers may be approaching the rally differently but hopefully this can be good for the team result at the end of the weekend.”
Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“It’s been quite a long break since the last rally so it’s been good to get back in the car for some testing and to get ready for Croatia. For me it has not been the start to the year that we wanted by a long way and we need to look forward and focus on performing in the coming events. Croatia is not an easy rally but it was a good one for us last year and hopefully we can have a strong run again. There are some things from last year that we have tried to learn from so that we have a car that’s suited to all of the different conditions. On our test we had a particularly slippery road that’s similar to what we’ll face on the rally, and that was a good place to work through some options.”
Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)
“I have been waiting to get back in the car for Croatia and that’s always a good sign! We’ve only had two rallies but it’s always nice to have some good points in the beginning of the season. We are in the same situation as last year leading the championship going to Croatia and hopefully we can do better there this time around. It will be a big challenge for us because we didn’t get to experience most of the stages last year, but we have been in this situation before with less experience than our rivals and I will do my best to manage. The feeling in the test was positive and I think there has been really good progress with the car. Hopefully it will go well on the event too.”
Esapekka Lappi (Driver car 4)
“Sweden was a great start to our season sharing the car with Seb. I hope I can take the confidence from there, but that was in conditions I know well and something I’m comfortable with, while Croatia will be a completely new rally for me. But I’m still really looking forward to what we could do there. The car felt really good in the test. It had been a while since I had driven on asphalt and it’s crazy how impressive the grip is on this surface. You can also really appreciate how much extra power we have from the hybrid. It was a bit like a Finnish road with a lot of crests and jumps, which is not so common on asphalt and pretty fun. There’s also a lot of dirt on the roads and managing that is something I want to be better at. I want to perform well and have a clean rally and I’m sure we can do it.”
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