The Croatia Rally was decided on the final day with a nail-biting Wolf Power Stage decider as Estonia’s Tänak and Finland’s Rovanperä went into the final stage on Sunday with a mere 1.4 seconds between the two, after an unbelievable turnaround in the penultimate stage.
Kalle Rovanperä pulled off an amazing comeback in the final stage of the Croatia Rally to edge out Ott Tänak by just 4.3 seconds. The Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT driver, who had led the rally from the first stage on Friday morning until Sunday’s penultimate stage, managed to avoid a heartbreaking defeat. Going into the 13.15-kilometre Trakošćan – Vrbno stage with a lead of almost half a minute over Tänak, the Finn’s hopes seemed dashed as heavy rain and tire choice caught out the Toyota team and erased his lead. Running on a crossover pair of soft-compound Pirellis and two wet-weather tires Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team driver Tänak was 29.8 seconds faster than Rovanperä and his co-driver Jonne Halttunen, who opted for two hard and two rain tires. This gave Tänak a slender 1.4 second lead with just one stage to go.
But in dry conditions and on a combination of two hard-compound Pirellis and two wet-weather tires, Rovanperä overturned the deficit with a fantastic stage-winning run. Tänak, who opted for soft tires all around, came in 5.7 seconds slower, to lose the rally by a mere 4.3 seconds. “It’s amazing, we pushed really hard and we deserve it this weekend. For sure, it’s the best win of my career and the toughest one,” said the 21 year-old Rovanperä. “I didn’t take any risks to really retire, but obviously Kalle did a good drive and I was clean as well, so no mistakes. It was just because of the tricky conditions and clever tire choices,” said Tänak.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT team principal Jari-Matti Latvala added: “It’s incredible. I was absolutely sure we were not going to win this event, I thought Kalle wouldn’t have a chance in these conditions. When you see the mud around you know soft tires are the correct tire, and that’s what Kalle told himself, that soft tires would have been best for the stage! I don’t know how he managed to do it. This kid is a miracle. Amazing job. I’m so happy for the team and thanks for the amazing fight, Kalle.”
Thierry Neuville and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe delivered a 2-3 result for Hyundai, but almost lost it with a dramatic nose-dive into a ditch on the Wolf Power Stage. The pair had managed to surpass M-Sport Ford’s Craig Breen and Paul Nagle earlier on the final leg. Starting the day 4.9 seconds down in fourth, Neuville grabbed the podium position on the second test of the morning with a committed stage-winning performance and widened the gap on the wet penultimate stage to 1 minute and 42.4 seconds.
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