First blood to Rovanpera on Croatia Rally shakedown

Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera claimed the early bragging rights at Rally Croatia this morning as he set the benchmark time on the shakedown stage.
First blood to Rovanpera on Croatia Rally shakedown

Totalling just 2.28-miles in length, the current World Rally Championship points’ leader traversed the ‘Okic’ test one tenth of a second quicker on his final attempt.

Rovanpera’s pace was in the ballpark across his initial two runs with a 1.56.3 and a 1.54.2 before he really turned up the wick on his closing effort when he managed a 1.52.5.

Although early days, the performance will do the young Finn’s confidence no harm on an event he has limited experience of compared to his Rally1 rivals.

12 months ago, the 21-year-old led the standings and therefore opened the road on the Friday. Unfortunately for him, his participation was short-lived as he crashed heavily at a tightening right hander 3.37-miles into the opening stage.

For that reason, he knows he has his work cut out at the Zagreb-based event this weekend, especially as the dry and sunny conditions witnessed today is set to make way for rain and dark skies at different points between now and Sunday afternoon.

“Everybody has now one more year of experience there, so I think it’s going to be a bit difficult for us,” he said. “But we have been in that situation also before and we just try to manage that the best way possible.”

Thierry Neuville was next up - but the Belgian was made to work hard after initially reporting set-up struggles with his Hyundai i20 N. Comparing his initial effort to his last, the Belgian improved by the guts of five-and-a-half seconds - a sign that he is starting to mould the car’s ride and handling to his liking on asphalt.

Former World Rally Champion Ott Tanak slotted in behind Neuville in the shakedown standings. Running Pirelli’s dry asphalt tyre for the first time on Croatia’s super technical roads, the Estonian lit up the leaderboard on passes one and two of ‘Okic’ before being usurped by Rovanpera and Neuville.

M-Sport Ford’s Craig Breen – a known sealed surface specialist from his days competing in the Irish Tarmac and British Rally Championships – and Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi both set a time of 1.53.8.

Lappi’s speed in particular will raise more than a few eyebrows in the service park considering this is his first taste of steering the Yaris GR supermini competitively on Tarmac.

Hyundai protégé Oliver Solberg continues to show potential as he stopped the clocks with the sixth best time, while Britain’s Gus Greensmith led a trio of M-Sport Ford Pumas in seventh.

In eighth, ahead of his running mate Adrien Fourmaux who finished fifth on this event in 2021, was 25-year-old Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet.

Having successfully recovered from a hip injury sustained in a road traffic accident in Paris last October, Loubet’s preparations for his WRC comeback involved performing course opening duties at the South Belgian Rally last month.

“I had a great feeling with the car with two sixth fastest times in the first two runs. It's good to be back in the game,” he said afterwards.

Conversely, the early promise of Rovanpera and Lappi has been overshadowed by Takamoto Katsuta and, in particular, Elfyn Evans' placing. Both were well off the pace and will have work to do before the action begins proper first thing on Friday morning (7.33am) when crews will tackle the first of eight special stages.



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