Croatia was a new all-tarmac round for 2021. Its fast-flowing but often narrow roads with worn surfaces and jumps provided a unique challenge for the WRC season. This year it’s back with two new stages, new shakedown and some stages shuffled between Friday and Saturday.
Okić is a new shakedown for this year. The stage has previously featured in the Croatia Delta Rally, in a longer format. We can see it on this 2009 video from the beginning to 2:25, where the shakedown route will end. It will also be preceded by a short acceleration and hairpin turn.
We can see from the video that the road is quite narrow and angular. There’s straight or flat out passages, but also surprisingly tricky corners and buildings close to the road. At the end there’s a junction turn behind a crest, where the road becomes a bit wider but still quite narrow, and it’s steeply downhill.
The new shakedown also will feature a chicane at 1:05. It will go around a triangular junction entry (which seems not to have been built in 2009 yet).
This shakedown is quite representative of the rally, apart from the widest or Corsica-style sections. The shakedown also features crests like on many of the actual stages, but difficult to judge whether the Rally1 cars will jump or not.
Like last year, there is no rally-opening super special so we go straight into action when the rally starts on Friday morning.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that last year’s opening – stage where Kalle Rovanperä crashed out – is omitted from this year’s route. Furthermore, some stages have been shuffled between Friday and Saturday.
SS1+5 Mali Lipovec – Grdanjci has several surface and rhythm changes. It’s very technical and last year it was one of the slowest stages of the rally. The finish is a bit earlier this year, cutting out a kilometre worth of flat out driving.
The start is on a wide and fast-flowing road (with the dreadful donut where Craig Breen had a puncture last year). The surface is first smooth with high grip but turns suddenly into worn and slippery, almost like going onto a gravel section, ending in a tight junction turn, shown here.
The next road is narrow, worn and often very dirty. It’s a tricky with crests as well as buildings and rock walls next to the road. There are lots of tight corners, even hairpins.
The road surface improves at 10 km, and there are also a couple of faster passages. A wider road with fresh tarmac surface is reached at 12.4 km but it’s still quite sinuous. The surface becomes again more worn at 14.5 km with the corners as frequent as in Corsica.
SS2+6 Stojdraga – Gornja Vas is another sinuous and relatively slow stage. Last year Takamoto Katsuta was the king of this one, winning it on both runs!
The road is again quite Corsican – medium wide with a worn and patchy surface, stuck between ravine and rock wall with a constant flow of medium-pace corners. There’s a bit of fresh tarmac at 7.8 km and a couple of faster passages after the midpoint, but otherwise there’s really no rhythm or surface changes.
After two slow stages we get a proper shakeup on SS3+7 Krašić – Vrškovac which was the fastest stage of the rally last year with 120 km/h of average speed on the second pass. Most of this stage is driven on a wide road with a somewhat worn slippery surface, while the beginning and the end are on fresh and grippy tarmac. It’s mostly fast-flowing with only a handful of tight turns or more technical passages, like this hairpin in the beginning:
There’s also a chicane on a particularly fast section. Furthermore, anti-cut blocks and concrete kerbs make cutting difficult on this stage.
SS4+8 Pećurkovo Brdo – Mrežnički Novaki is also a relatively fast stage, and it’s also driven mostly on a medium-worn surface. The coolest thing about this stage are the numerous blind corners over crests and even occasional jumps!
The beginning is narrow, the middle part wide and the ending something in between. There’s a technical section in the middle and two more in the end. This is remembered from Adrien Fourmaux’s sideways jump, Takamoto Katsuta’s junction overshoot and Teemu Suninen’s off.
SS9+13 Kostanjevac – Petruš Vrh is the longest stage of the rally at almost 24 km of length. It’s mostly fast but has quite many technical sections as well as surface changes. This is the stage where Andreas Mikkelsen took a wheel off last year and Takamoto Katsuta span.
The start is on a wide but medium worn road. The pace alternates between full flat out and Corsica-style strings of medium corners. The surface becomes more worn at 6.6 km but the constant rhythm changes remain similar.
At 11.7 km there’s a turn onto a road that is first narrow but becomes soon medium wide. The surface is even more worn, very slippery and bumpy, and there’s now crests (including a jump), but the pace retains still quite fast.
A few kilometres later there is a turn onto a narrow and smooth but slippery road which is fast-flowing over crests. However, this joy lasts only for 700m before another tight turn onto a wider and more worn road. It’s again quite fast and turning all the time. At 18.4 km the road becomes suddenly narrow, smooth but slippery and fast-flowing over crests including another jump, documented here:
After this section the corners start being tighter and the pace slower, and finally just before the end the road becomes wide again.
SS10+14 Jaškovo – Mali Modruš Potok is driven completely on medium wide worn tarmac. It’s fast-flowing going over crests and even jumps. There’s no rhythm changes or tight corners apart from the junction right after the start line.
Last year Elfyn Evans went wide into a bank but was lucky not to damage the car or lose more time. Meanwhile, the to-become-JWRC-champion Sami Pajari rolled but was able to continue.
SS11+15 Platak is a new stage for this year. It begins on a quite narrow and relatively worn road, ascending to a skiing center. It’s mostly angular with one very fast passage on the way. The end of the stage is wide and downhill with occasional tight corners but mostly very fast. Compared to this video, the stage is run in the opposite direction.
A curious addition for the stage is a spectator area at the top – with a donut and an artificial jump. The area will appear at 4:26 on the video. On the recce video, part pf the area is still under construction!
SS12+16 Vinski Vrh – Duga Resa is another very fast stage. It begins on a medium wide and somewhat worn road. It’s quite angular with flatout passages being cut by things like tight corners, a pair of hairpins leading into a tunnel below a highway, a chicane, a narrow bridge and some junction turns. The fast sections involve also bends over crests and one heavy jump. The ending of the stage has a more constant flow of corners.
SS17+19 Trakošćan – Vrbno is another completely new stage. It starts on a very wide and smooth road at the Trakoscan castle area. There are occasional tight turns but mostly it’s very fast. The surface is older from 3.1 km to 5 km.
At 7 km there’s a turn onto a narrower road which ascends and descends, through hairpins. 4 km before the finish there’s a narrow and technical section. Then the rest of the stage is again medium wide, first fast-flowing and finally angular, with also a bit of fresh tarmac.
The long wide and smooth section separates this stage from the others, but also the fact that there’s no jumps or crests. This could be one of the fastest stages of the rally.
SS18+20 Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec acts as the power stage like last year. It’s a quite different stage to all others. It’s narrow and angular with many tricky tight places. The road will also be very polluted thanks to fields next to the road or tree leaves in the forest sections. There’s also blind crests and jumps. Trees, buildings and other obstacles are close to the road.
Last year Adrien Fourmaux went off the road near the begin of the stage:
At 10.5 km there’s a spectacular fast twisty passage, a junction over a narrow bridge onto a wider and smoother road, then yet another twisty part on a narrow road and finally a long acceleration which suddenly turns into a very wide road.
Last year there was drama until the very end with everyone on the limit. Gus Greensmith had a big save, Thierry Neuville an overshoot, Ogier almost losing control and finally Elfyn Evans going wide in the last corner of the whole rally!