Ogier starts with a bang and ends with a victory
Frenchman Sebastien Ogier won the Croatia Rally on Sunday by just sixth tenths of a second after Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans slipped on the last of the race's thousands of corners.
Ogier's success may be clouded by the repercussions from an incident before the day's first stage.
Evans led by 3.9 seconds going into the final stage and started last.
While Ogier, driving aggressively, made a small mistake, Evans, more conservative, had been error-free until he bounced up onto the shoulder on the final curve.
"That last corner!" the Welshman said at the finish. "I just got onto the loose and completely missed the next corner. It wasn't all lost there, but I'd say a second was gone."
"That's a shame, but it was a big fight all weekend and hats off to Seb for the last stage."
In last season's championship, Evans entered the season-ending Monza Rally leading the standings only to crash. His slip opened the door for Ogier who won the race and took the title.
The late drama on Sunday finished an eventful day for Ogier.
The Frenchman began in the lead but suffered a collision on the road heading toward the start of the day's first stage.
An amateur video showed him pulling into the right-hand lane of a road and hitting a car that was overtaking him, damaging the passenger side of his Toyota Yaris.
In another video, the Frenchman is seen leaving the scene to reach the start line on time as police officers surround his stationary Toyota and try to restrain him.
For the moment, this incident has no consequences for the Frenchman.
- Toyota one-two finish -
He drove the four stages with his dented passenger door held together by thick grey tape and with co-driver Julien Ingrassia wearing goggles.
Evans took the lead by winning the first two stages of the day and was still ahead entering the final Power Stage.
After Ogier crossed the line, with Evans still on the course, the Frenchman said he did not think he had made up enough time.
"I think it won't be enough for the win," Ogier said. "It has been an eventful weekend for me after this morning. We are here and we have to look forward."
Toyota took the top two spots on a weekend that started badly for them when overall lader Kalle Rovanpera crashed.
"I don't know what to say," said team sporting director Kaj Lindstrom. "Elfyn made me a bit scared on that last corner but luckily he got away with it! What a battle: both guys within just 0.6sec. It's great!"
"Of course it's a very big thing for the team."
Thierry Neuville, in a Hyundai, completed the podium on the Croatian asphalt, 8.1 seconds behind Ogier. The Belgian also won the third stage of the day.
The victory lifted Ogier to the top of the World Rally Championship (WRC) standings after the third round of the season.
He is eight points ahead of Neuville with Evans two points further back.
Estonian Ott Tanak, who was fourth in his Hyundai on Sunday, is also fourth overall followed by the Finn Rovanpera, who crashed out in the first few kilometres.
The first WRC event in Croatia was supposed to be held behind closed doors, but crowds still gathered at the roadside.
The drivers will next meet on the Portuguese gravel from 20 to 23 May, for the fourth round of the 12 scheduled.
© 2021 AFP