Croatia Rally is a new tarmac event on the WRC calendar. Not much was known about its character before the recce videos, but it seems we’re in for mostly fast roads on worn tarmac, but also technical or smooth sections. There’s similarities to many previous established tarmac rallies, but also some unique features.
Cover image by Dj masch hr, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The first overview of the route is that the stages are fairly short. Eight of the 20 stages are only 11 km long or shorter. Meanwhile, the longest stage is only 25 km long. On the contrary, both Friday and Saturday are made up of two loops of four stages (as opposed to only three as on many rallies).
It’s also worth noting that Croatia hasn’t opted for a shortened COVID-19 era schedule. In fact, if no stages are canceled, it will be the first event since Monte Carlo 2020 to contain over 300 stage kilometres.
You can view the recce videos of all stages here
The rally was supposed to have a partly indoor super special, but it was cancelled. Thus Thursday’s program consists solely of the Medvedgrad shakedown.
The stage starts on a medium wide road with slightly worn tarmac. The first half of the stage ascends and the second descends. The climb is first very steep and twisty, then quite fast with the trees close to the road. 2.8 km into the stage there’s a hairpin junction onto a wider road with fresh tarmac. The rest of the stage is driven on that with moderately fast and flowing rhythm, and features a few anti-cut blocks. The stage does a good job of including different road widths, surfaces and rhythms, but it’s not as fast as some sections in the actual rally.
The ending of the stage can be seen here from 14:04 onwards. I would say there’s a bit of Sanremo character.
The Friday stages are driven South-West from Zagreb. They are overall the fastest stages of the rally.
SS1+5 Rude – Plešivica 1 is the shortest stage of the rally at 6.94 km of length. It’s also the only one to be run completely on a wide road and one of the fastest stages of the rally for sure. The beginning has a bit of fresh tarmac, the middle part is more worn and the ending less worn. The road allows likely some Catalunya-like racing lines. There’s no anti-cut blocks on this road, but the curbs prevent cutting at places.
The more twisty ending of the stage can be seen on this video from 5:05 to 6:55. The grip level seems low, but we can’t know what kind of tyres the driver is running on.
SS2+6 Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh is the longest stage of the day at 23 km of length. It starts quite wide and smooth but the surface becomes worn and patchy at 6.6 km. The character is again very fast but there’s some twisty passages mixed in. At 11.7 km the road becomes slightly narrower and very worn. The road starts turning more constantly and there’s more crests. At 16.7 km there’s another junction turn after which the road is narrower for a short while. The surface improves at 20 km but the ending of the stage is generally slightly more twisty than the beginning. There’s more crests which could even make the cars jump at times. There’s only one anti-cut block on the stage, so the road could get polluted.
SS3+7 Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok has no rhythm or surface changes, not even a single tight corner apart from the junction right after the start line. It’s all fast-flowing over crests on a narrow and worn road, through forests, countryside and small towns. The challenge here are the crests which could send the cars airborne, and appear often in the middle of corners, making them essentially blind. There’s 12 anti-cut blocks preventing cutting throughout the route. This stage reminds me of the Barum Rally Zlin.
SS 4+8 Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novaki is also one of the fastest stages of the rally and has many jump-capable crests all over it. It starts quite fast, quite narrow and quite worn. Only 1.1 km later it turns onto a wide road with fresh and smooth tarmac, becoming very fast. At 2.5 km the surface becomes more worn and after 4.5 km the road more twisty. Finally the road narrows at 5.7 km. There’s a haybale chicane at 5.9 km and anti-cut blocks all over the route.
The Saturday stages are driven in the same region as Friday, but they are a bit more technical and twisty.
SS 9+13 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci starts festively with a donut on a bus stop. Then it proceeds in high speed on a wide and fresh tarmac road. The surface changes into older tarmac at 1.5 km and there’s a few anti-cut blocks. A tight hairpin at 4.1 km takes the stage onto a very narrow and worn small road. This section is very tricky with many tight corners, but also fast passages. The road is often covered in leaves from the tree branches above. After 10.7 km there’s again better tarmac and the speed increases until passing of the Jarusje town at 12.1 km which is again narrow and tricky. After this the stage widens again, but starts a constant flow of turning with some bends having a good camber. After a pair of square corners with a bridge on the latter, the last 1.3 km is just flat out on a good surface.
SS10+14 Stojdraga – Gornja Vas is the most technical stage of the rally. It’s resembles Tour de Corse in its constantly turning twisty character, going through mountainous forests and small towns. The road is medium wide and slightly worn. From 4.6 onwards there’s partly new surface on the road, but not for its full width. This stage doesn’t have anti-cut blocks, but mostly the cutting is prevented by kerbs, railings or natural obstacles.
This video from the Croatia Delta Rally 2008 uses the stage in the opposite direction, but you can get an idea of the character.
SS11+15 Krašić – Vrškovac is a very fast stage. The first 1.7 km are like racing track on smooth and wide road. After that it’s narrower, worn and patchy. The character is mostly fast-flowing with a wider and faster passage at 3.7 km, slowed down by a chicane at 4.9 km. The last kilometre is again on a freshly paved fast and wide road. There’s quite many anti-cut blocks on this stage.
SS12+16 Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa is the shortest stage of the day at just under 9km of length. It’s mostly fast-flowing on a slightly worn and medium road. Only a few technical places punctuate its flow, such as the tunnel below a highway at 2.6 km, a chicane at 3.5 km as well as the square bend onto a narrow bridge at 4.1 km. Again a few anti-cut blocks are placed on this stage.
The Sunday stages are driven North of Zagreb. They are completely different in character to each other, and also to the rest of the rally.
SS 17+19 – Bliznec – Pila is the longest stage of the rally with 25 km of length. It reminds me of Rally Japan the way it combines mountainous elements with roads resembling a racing circuit.
The stage gets underway with 20 ascending hairpins, on a medium wide worn road (although the initial acceleration is wide and on fresh tarmac). At 5.5 km the surface becomes fresher. After the hairpins are done, there’s a racing circuit like wide and smooth section. After that the road is again narrower and more worn for a while until it widens and smoothens at 11.2 km, going back to the racing flow for the rest of the stage. The stage starts also descending by now, so the latter half is very fast and probably enjoyable to drive with anti-cut blocks and kerbs preventing pollution, although the tree leaves could make it still slippery.
SS18+20 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec is the power stage, and maybe the trickiest stages of the rally. The roads going through the Croatian countryside are as narrow as in Saarland or Mosel valley on Rally Deutschland. It’s fast but there are hazards everywhere: buildings or trees right next to the road, sudden junction turns, steep downhills, blind crests, jumps, ravines, tree leaves…there’s anti-cut blocks preventing pollution, but some places could still get dirty. The first section of the stage can be seen on this video from 0:46 until 5:18 (where the WRC stage proceeds straight)
At 12 km into the stage there’s a tight junction over bridge where the road widens for a while. Only 700 m later there’s another sudden junction turn onto more of narrow country lane. Just before the finish line the road becomes wide and freshly paved.
Road conditions and starting order
The road book has anti-cut blocks added on some sections and roughly half of the corners have curbs or other obstacles preventing cutting. However, it’s likely that road becomes polluted at least in some areas, possibly in the forest sections with tree branches above the road. Many roads also have a bit of gravel at the side of the road, which is likely to get pulled onto the road.
So, starting order could play a big role, although we must remember that it concerns only the first runs of the Friday stages. The second runs will be already polluted, and on the following days the rally leader doesn’t start first. Kalle Rovanperä will be first on the road, followed by Thierry Neuville, Sebastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak.
EDITED 6.4.2021: Added anti-cut block information