WRC Croatia preview: the championship returns to the asphalt Car News

Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera came out of the last round of the WRC – the Arctic Rally, four long weeks ago – as the youngest championship leader the sport has ever seen, at 20. the roads of his native Finland.

He faces a much more difficult challenge to maintain his four-point advantage in Croatia, as for the first time since Monza in December last year, the championship has moved to asphalt. But even Monza has become a rally on snow and ice, so you have to go back to August 2019 to find the last full event on asphalt, in Germany. And asphalt is where the Finns struggle.

Or at least that’s the popular assumption. In reality, the specialist’s days are numbered and all the best factory pilots are now complete all-rounders. The first Finn to win on pure asphalt was Markku Alen, who tamed the 1984 Tour de Corse in the Lancia Delta 037.

Conversely, Carlos Sainz became the first “Latin” driver to triumph at Rally Finland in 1990. The Safari Rally (also won by Sainz in 1992) is another example, where factory teams often have led local specialists like Ian Duncan.

“When I started out there was definitely the idea that if you were Spanish then you were only fast on the asphalt,” Sainz said recently. “So I realized I had to prove them wrong and be fast everywhere. I hope I have helped change this idea and change the sport.

Asphalt, however, was still seen as a European specialty until relatively recently: Peugeot used to bring in Gilles Panizzi with a devastating effect on sealed surfaces with the 206 WRC in the early 2000s.

It’s easy to see why, because driving a rally car on asphalt versus gravel is as different as playing football versus rugby. You use a ball for both and have to try to score – but that’s where the similarity ends. Imagine a league where a little over half the matches are rugby and the rest are football, then you have the World Rally Championship.

Croatia is a brand new event for this year which should help Rovanpera’s cause slightly as it is a level playing field. The asphalt on the stages of Croatia is extremely varied, with some smooth roads but others that are pockmarked and bumpy; a bit like the Tour de Corse but with fewer hairpins.

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This notice was published: 2021-04-23 23:01:00