WRC Croazia: Local hero
The Croatia Rally is the first world championship motorsport event to have been held in what is still a relatively young country, which declared independence just over three decades ago. But Croatia can claim to have produced another famous motorsport export long before that. Mario Andretti, the 1978 Formula 1 world champion, was born in the Istria region that was then part of Italy but is now Croatia.
One of the best things about the Croatia Rally is its proximity to several other countries, Italy included. The stages take place close to the border with Slovenia, and can also be reached from Austria and Hungary (nations with a strong rally scene) within a couple of hours. It could even be considered a home event for Pirelli, since Zagreb is actually slightly closer to the company's Milan base than the island of Sardinia which hosts the Italian round of the WRC.
For now, Croatia has a modest rallying record relative to some of its neighbours. Its best-known driver is probably Juraj Sebalj, who achieved four wins on the Croatia Rally before it joined the WRC – one less than one less than the record five achieved by Slovenian Branislav Kuzmic in the 1980s. Sebalj is also a multiple Croatian champion, winning his latest title in 2022 in a Toyota GR Yaris on Pirelli tyres.
With a WRC round now taking place in the country's capital, a new generation of drivers will surely be inspired to one day join Andretti as a world champion born on Croatian soil.