Toyota Gazoo Racing returns to the top step in Croatia Rally

BY Sean Loo

Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin have returned to the top step of the podium, taking victory at the 2023 Croatia Rally.

In a heartwarming gentlemen’s gesture, together with their fellow podium finishers, Evans and Martin dedicated the result to their friend and fellow competitor Craig Breen, a Hyundai WRC star who tragically lost his life in the build-up to the event.

Martin was coincidentally Breen’s co-driver between 2014 and 2018, claiming their first WRC podiums together.

A well-managed drive enabled Evans and Martin to claim their fifth win with Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team (TGR-WRT), and their first since Rally Finland in 2021.

The asphalt stages around Zagreb proved to be challenging once again, with frequent surface changes and a lot of mud and gravel being dragged onto the road, but Evans was able to find the right balance between caution and speed.

After gaining the lead on Saturday morning, Evans increased his advantage in tricky conditions to 25.4 seconds, and extended that margin over half a minute in the first of Sunday’s four tests. This allowed a more cautious approach to the final stages, with a winning margin of 27 seconds.

Team-mates Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier completed the top five, recovering after hitting trouble in the same place on Friday’s second stage when heavy impacts in a compression in the road forced them to stop and change a wheel.

Both showed strong pace thereafter while competing closely with each other for position. Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen won six stages in total to finish fourth, with Ogier and navigator Vincent Landais setting seven fastest times across the weekend as they took fifth.

Rovanperä and Ogier took second and third respectively in the rally-ending Power Stage. The results mean Ogier and Evans are now joint leaders of the drivers’ championship, one point ahead of Rovanperä.

Takamoto Katsuta rounded out the top six finishers in his GR Yaris Rally Hybrid supported by the TGR WRC Challenge Program.

As a mark of solidarity ahead of this event, only two drivers per team were nominated as eligible to score manufacturers’ championship points. With the results of Rovanperä and Ogier taken into account, TGR-WRT currently has a lead of 29 points.