British World Rally Championship pair Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin claimed victory in Rally Croatia yesterday, the fourth round of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver and co-driver dedicated their win to their friend and fellow competitor Craig Breen, who tragically lost his life in the build-up to the event. Martin sat alongside Breen as co-driver between 2014 and 2018 and they claimed 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 and their first since Rally Finland in 2021. The asphalt stages around Zagreb proved challenging once again, with frequent surface changes and 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 in his GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid, he was able to increase his advantage in the tricky conditions to 25.4 seconds by the end of the day. He extended that margin to more than half a minute in the first of Sunday’s four tests, allowing him to take a more cautious approach in the final stages. His winning margin was 27 seconds.
Evans’s team-mates Kalle Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier completed the top five, recovering after hitting trouble in the same place on Friday’s second stage and being force 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. Ogier and Evans are now joint leaders of the drivers’ championship, one point ahead of Rovanperä.
As a mark of solidarity, it was agreed ahead of this event that only two drivers per team be nominated as eligible to score manufacturers’ championship points. With the results of Rovanperä and Ogier taken into account, TGR-WRT has a lead of 29 points. Takamoto Katsuta rounded out the top six finishers in his GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid supported by the TGR WRC Challenge Program.
Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal): “It has been a hard week for the rally community and the most important thing here was to have a safe rally and a good competition as Craig would have wanted. I feel that Elfyn and Scott were a great pairing to win this event in these circumstances. They were friends with Craig, and Scott was previously a co-driver for Craig and they reached their first podium together. It was not easy for them to come to this event but they did a fantastic job and they deserve the victory: I think that it means a lot to them to win again. It was also nice to have Kalle and Seb bringing some good points for the team after their problems on Friday.”
Elfyn Evans (driver car 33): “Obviously we have been working for another win like this for a long time but that doesn’t mean so much right at this moment. It’s been a tough week for everybody and the whole WRC family can be proud of how everyone has come together and paid tribute to Craig. Competition went on as usual, as he would have wanted. It seemed a bit of a tall order to win here with our road position on Friday and the amount of dirt on the road, but some others hit trouble and that gave us an opportunity to fight for the win. Scott and I promised Craig’s family that we would enjoy this weekend and we’ve been able to do that. Now it’s all over, our thoughts turn back to them.”
Kalle Rovanperä (driver car 69): “It has not been a great weekend in terms of a result but in the end we did what we could. It was a great fight with Seb and to come out on top is not so bad. Of course, we don’t want to be fighting for fourth, but that’s all we could really do after Friday. We didn’t start the weekend well; we made a small mistake with the set-up, but after that the car was good, so thank you to the team. We tried to push hard on the Power Stage and took some good points at the end of the weekend.”
Sébastien Ogier (driver car 17): “It has been a tough week. From a sporting point of view, we had the pace to do much better but things did not go our way this weekend. That’s motorsport sometimes. It was quite difficult today but I have to say that Kalle was really fast and I didn’t have the same pace as him on this final day. Of course, the Power Stage was still a target but we made a wrong decision with the tyre strategy and I had a lot of moments in the stage, so I was glad to cross the finish line and still bring some points to the team.”
| Akio Toyoda comment for Croatia Rally
Just before the Croatia Rally, we lost a driver who was our strong rival and also a precious friend of ours. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to Craig Breen, his family and the Hyundai Motorsport team.
I think all his fellow drivers and co-drivers competed thinking of him this weekend. In such a weekend it was great that Scott, who used to be Craig’s co-driver, stood on the top of the podium. Scott, congratulations.
I thank Elfyn for letting Craig see Scott’s smile. And it was also Elfyn’s first win in a long time. Congratulations, Elfyn! I think he finally found the last piece that he has been looking for. I was really happy to see his smile. I heard that Craig often talked about the importance of enjoying driving, and I believe Elfyn showed that great smile because he truly enjoyed driving this weekend.
For those of us who love rally and who always try to enjoy driving, his accident was a huge shock and a tragic incident. We must come up with and implement all the measures we can so that such a sad accident won’t happen again in the future.
The sounds, smells, and power of running cars, the emotions involving drivers and co-drivers. I feel rallying is a sport that moves people. We hope to continue to deliver such excitement from the actual field of motorsport, and for that we will continue our ever-better car making.
Chairman, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team
PROVISIONAL FINAL CLASSIFICATION, CROATIA RALLY
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) 2h50m54.s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +27.0s
3 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +58.6s
4 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +1m18.3s
5 Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +1m28.0s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +2m22.5s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +4m22.6s
8 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroën C3 Rally2) +7m51.3s
9 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) +8m07.4s
10 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) +9m16.7s
(Results as of 14:30 on Sunday, for the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)
The Rally de Portugal (12-13 May) is the first in a run of consecutive events on gravel. Based in Matosinhos near Porto in the north of the country, it features classic stages on sandy and rocky roads.