World Rally Championship

Third place for Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe at Croatia Rally

A Sunday with a number of twists in the story of the rally as crews tackled four tricky final stages

A Sunday with a number of twists in the story of the rally as crews tackled four tricky final stages

A dramatic closing day at Croatia Rally, round four of the 2024 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season, has seen Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe finish on the podium in third.

Sunday brought a number of twists in the story of the rally as crews tackled four tricky final stages – Trakošćan – Vrbno (SS17/19, 13.15km) and Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec (SS18/20, 14.24km), the latter of which proved to be fateful during the first attempt.

The rally-long fight for the lead of continued into the third day of the event. Sadly, Neuville and Wydaeghe’s victory charge ended after a mistake on SS18 saw them slide off the road, losing them over 20 seconds, and they dropped down to third place.

It was a bittersweet conclusion to Croatia for the Belgians, who had demonstrated rally-winning potential for the majority of the event, topping the standings for 15 of the 20 tarmac stages. However, despite nursing damage to their Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, Neuville and Wydaeghe managed to finish with 19 points and remain in the lead of the drivers’ and codrivers’ championships.

The improved pace of the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid on tarmac was also evident in the performance of Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja on Sunday, with the Estonians locked in a close battle in the Super Sunday standings. On the eventful SS18, which also featured “a bit more than a moment” for the #8 crew, Tänak and Järveoja secured their first stage win of the weekend. They finished second in the Sunday points and fourth overall to be the second highest-scoring crew in Croatia.

Meanwhile Andreas Mikkelsen and Torstein Eriksen continued their learning curve on the tricky and dirty roads, where they often struggled to find the confidence they needed to push to the limit. It was a promising finish to Croatia Rally for the pair, who finished fourth in the Super Sunday standings and sixth overall.

The battle in the manufacturers’ championship continues to be tight, with Hyundai Motorsport now trailing by seven points. WRC now heads to Portugal for the first of seven gravel events, where the team hopes to once again demonstrate the strong pace of the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid on the surface.

Croatia Rally was a fitting tribute to Craig Breen, perfectly encapsulating what he loved most about rallying. The entire Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team has channelled one of his most iconic sayings this weekend: “Don’t forget to enjoy it, don’t forget to have fun. Life is too short.”

Crew Notes: Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (#11 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)

  • Long-time rally leaders claimed nine stage wins in Croatia
  • Belgians finish third overall after costly mistake on SS18

Neuville said: “While we didn’t finish how we would have wanted, we have been well rewarded for our great drive on Friday and Saturday. Those are important points and despite not scoring many today, we were still the third-best performers – equal with Elfyn – and we only lost one point to Ott. SS18 was really tricky, and I tried my best to avoid an impact immediately hitting the brakes but there was nothing I could do. I am happy to still be in the lead and to retain the advantage, however Portugal is going to be tough for us from our road position.”

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

  • Estonians claim 10 additional points on Super Sunday
  • Crew netted stage win on SS18 despite small diversion off the road

Tänak said: “It’s incredible to finish as the second highest-scoring crew. Our weekend was tough once again; we started from a very bad place, and I gave away some time in the beginning. We recovered a bit on Friday afternoon, and then on Saturday we tried to experiment a bit ahead of today to try and help us maximise our road position, which was also tricky. We were always just a bit too far behind to get enough dirty road, so it was a constant challenge, but we managed to collect some good points. I’m hoping to have a better feeling on gravel from Portugal and be more competitive, as the target will be to start taking back some points.”

Crew Notes: Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (#9 Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid)

  • Norwegians finish sixth overall after challenging outing
  • Crew focused on small improvements in pace and confidence in a learning weekend

Mikkelsen said: “I was expecting to be a bit closer to the front during this event, even though I knew I was going to struggle here. I haven’t done the rally in the last few years so it was a struggle, especially as there is so much pace note information to take on. When I don’t know the stage by heart, it is hard to have the commitment you need to fight at the front, and the speed here is very high. I was missing confidence in the driving but we were going in the right direction, but I was hoping for more.”

Hyundai Motorsport President and Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul said: “We are leaving Croatia frustrated for what could have been an amazing win from Thierry and Martijn. Instead, we finish with a roughly similar championship outlook as to when we arrived, with Thierry having a small margin of six points. It has been a very entertaining rally but one where risks were taken by both Thierry and Elfyn that didn’t reward them fairly. It is a small lesson with this new points-scoring system, of which we are still exploring the boundaries and side effects. Ott was one of the biggest winners in that regard today; he has been trying to get his head around the behaviour of our car on tarmac, and we’re all looking forward seeing him in action on gravel from Portugal. Andreas clearly had a challenging weekend, and we must find a way to get him in better shape for his next appearance with us.”

Next rally

  • Rally de Portugal marks a return to gravel for the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship on May 9-12

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