And according to Ford's official rally team, things are looking positive that might happen.
Last weekend, the fourth stage of the World Rally Championship (WRC) took place in Croatia, with CarBuzz's in-house rally ace Artem Volokha in attendance to witness the pinnacle of off-road motorsport. Unfortunately, the race was overshadowed by tragic events, as during preliminary tests, a crew crashed off the track, resulting in the death of Hyundai Shell Mobis Motorsport driver Craig Breen. Thankfully, his co-driver, James Fulton, was not injured.
The FIA, teams, crews, organizers, officials, and media representatives paid tribute to the memory of the rally driver, friend, and colleague. All crews participating in the rally had a black sticker on their doors in remembrance of Craig, and Toyota even decided to nominate only two cars for points in a show of sportsmanship and camaraderie with Hyundai. But the ultimate tribute would be to race in his honor. And race they did.
The competitive part of the race started on Friday. Already on the second special stage, the main contenders for victory faced problems. Toyota Gazoo Racing's two primary WRC drivers, eight-time world champion Frenchman Sebastien Ogier and the youngest WRC Champion in history, Kalle Rovanpera, both punctured tires on the broken and treacherous asphalt, which dropped them to eighth and fifteenth positions in the race.
The stewards later noticed on video recordings from the onboard camera that after changing the tire by crew number 17, Ogier started moving before his co-driver's seatbelt was fastened, resulting in a time penalty on top of already-heavy delays faced by the pairing, dropping them further behind then-leader, Hyundai Shell Mobis Motorsport's Thierry Neuville.
He held the lead all day Friday, and by the end of the second special stage on Saturday, his gap to the closest pursuer, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT's Elfyn Evans, was 10.8 seconds. However, on the next competitive stage, Thierry couldn't hold the rear of his Hyundai i20 N Rally 1 and crashed into the trees. With severe suspension damage, the driver could not return to the track, ultimately relinquishing the lead and his chances of victory.
Thus, the top three positions were taken by the drivers:
However, despite a Toyota driver taking the win, as he was not one of the team's two nominated drivers, Toyota Gazoo Racing failed to pick up Constructors' points from Evans' effort, relying instead on fourth and fifth place finishes from Ogier and Rovanpera.
Estonian Ott Tanak added intrigue by reducing the gap from Britain's Elfyn Evans to 12.5 seconds. However, by the end of Saturday, Elfyn squeezed the maximum from the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid - which uses a four-cylinder engine instead of the turbo-three in the Toyota GR Corolla - and increased the gap. The final special stages of the race on Sunday saw the crews finish in the same positions.
The constant struggle and changing of leaders added intrigue throughout the race, once again proving that Rally Croatia deserves its place in the World Championship calendar. One of the newest races on the WRC calendar, Rally Croatia is only in its third year, but it has already become commercially successful, and the high standard of organization was a pleasure to witness.
Amid recent rumors about the possibility of holding a WRC race in the USA, the Croatia Rally could serve as a good incentive for American organizers. CarBuzz spoke with Rich Millener, team principal of the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, the only American manufacturer represented in the WRC.
When asked about the possibility of a US stage, Millener responded positively. "I hope so. It's a huge market for a lot of people," he tells us. "For us to go to the home of Ford is a bit of a dream. It would be really important. And I think it's a huge area, a huge market."
He believes it would be beneficial for the team, too, and suggested that America's affinity for putting on big shows would make it a success. "They [America] are very good at putting on big shows, big events, big rallies, and big action. [The US is] somewhere that we really need to make work to improve this sport in general. Not just for us, for only one manufacturer. It's one of the biggest continents, the biggest countries on the planet. So it's important to be there."
A second test event on US soil will be held in September, after which Millener is positive a decision will be made. "I think the initial small test event was quite good, and hopefully, there will be one more in September where we'll be good," he tells us. "Then we can make a decision to be there next year for a WRC event. I'd love to go to, that's for sure."
Join The Discussion