The Rise of Rally Croatia - A Brief History of the Newest Addition to the WRC Calendar

Rally Croatia history 10 photos
Photo: Toyota GAZOO Racing
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After almost a two-month break since the last rally in Sweden, WRC is back for this weekend's Rally Croatia. We take a look at the history of this event, starting with 1974.
Even though Rally Croatia has been held for more than four decades, the officials of WRC (World Rally Championship) decided to introduce it as a new round for the calendar on October 10, 2020. Croatia became the thirty-fourth nation to stage a championship round in the World Rally Championship.

The idea was born back in 2013 when the rally was part of the European Rally Championship. After Jean Todt visited Zagreb in July 2020, the WRC immediately accepted the idea.

The 2021 Rally Croatia was won by Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia with only a 0.6-second advantage over teammate Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin. It was the third closest winning margin overall after the 2011 Jordan Rally and the 2007 Rally New Zealand.

First-ever Croatian Rally was held more than four decades ago, in 1974, under the name of INA Delta TLX Rally. In only three years, the event grew from a regional race into a national championship competition in former Yugoslavia. From the very beginning, the trademarks of this rally were the highly long itineraries, going through Gorski Kotar, Lika, Primorje, and Continental Croatia.

Rally Croatia 2021\-3
Photo: Croatia Rally/Twitter
The first international recognition was in 1986 when it entered the FIA ( Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) intending to join the European Rally Championship (ERC). Even in difficult times (civil war in Yugoslavia), the competition popularity was growing faster and faster, with good organization bringing it to the highest coefficient in Europe.

In the first ERC, Rally Croatia was won by domestic crew Juraj Sebalj and Toni Klinc in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX. The remaining two rallies held in Zagreb and its surroundings were won by foreign competitors – Italians Corrado Fontana and Renzo Casazza, and Bulgarians Krum Donchev and Peter Yordanov.

After three successfully organized ERC events in Zagreb, the officials moved the rally to Rijeka due to the economic recession. Special stages took part in Gorski Kotar, Ucka, Cicarija, Istria, and a particularly attractive step at legendary track Preluk. In 2013, Croatia Rally moved once again. This time to Istria and the town of Porec, which is the host and co-organizer of the event.

To talk about some statistics and technical stuff, the first-ever winner of this rally was Tomislav Markt driving a BMW 1600. Slovenians achieved the most wins in the history of the Croatian rally, driver Branislav Kuzmic and co-driver Rudi Šali winning five races in a Renault 5 GT Turbo.

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Photo: Croatia Rally/Twitter
Rally Croatia will be the third round for the already exciting 2022 season, consisting of 20 stages held on fast and slippery country roads near Zagreb. It will be the first entire asphalt event for the new generation of cars.

These vehicles are now developing more than 500 hp thanks to the use of a 1.6-liter turbocharged internal combustion engine coupled with a hybrid unit. At the same time, the use of extra aerodynamic extras such as additional wings was forbidden, reducing the overall downforce by no more than 15%. The overcomplicated differentials from past years were abolished as well for a simplified front and rear mechanical limited-slip differential offering exactly a 50:50 split between rear and front wheels.

After winning the Rally Sweden, Kale Rovanpera is the leader of the driver's championship with 46 points. For the second race in the row, rally legends Sebastian Loeb and Ogier will not participate in Rally Croatia, opening doors for new young drivers to showcase their talents. Stay tuned for updated information on this week's event.

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About the author: Silvian Irimia
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Silvian may be the youngest member of our team, being born in the 2000s, but you won't find someone more passionate than him when it comes to motorsport. An automotive engineer by trade, Silvian considers the Ferrari F50 his favorite car, with the original Lamborghini Countach a close second.
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