Elfyn Evans gears up for career-defining weekend in Sardinia
Elfyn Evans is on the threshold of making sporting history this weekend (8-11 October). The pace-setting Welshman arrives in Sardinia for the latest round of this year’s fiercely-fought FIA World Rally Championship with a sizeable points advantage over his closest rivals and knows that another strong result could see him move one step closer to being crowned as Wales’ first-ever World Champion rally driver.
Having joined Toyota Gazoo Racing at the start of this COVID-19 interrupted campaign, Evans has posted victories in Sweden and, most recently, in Turkey and is yet to finish lower than fourth in any of the five rounds staged to-date.
After both of his closest title rivals fell by the rock-strewn wayside in Turkey, Evans now holds a commanding 18-point lead over his six-time World Champion team-mate Sébastien Ogier and a 27-point lead over defending champion Ott Tänak. However, with plenty of points still on offer, he is taking nothing for granted.
“It is better that way than the other way round but I haven’t given it too much thought,” admitted the 31-year-old from Dolgellau, who shares the pace-setting Yaris WRC with co-driver Scott Martin. “Who knows what will happen between now and the end of the season? We know that, ultimately, one retirement and it is flipped on its head again. We have to keep focused for the next rallies.”
Adding to the challenge, Evans is entering uncharted waters. Although in the past he has kept his cool to win both the junior FIA WRC Academy title in 2012 and the British Rally Championship in 2016, the Welshman has never experienced the pressure generated by an all-out world title bid. Indeed, he has never finished higher than fifth in the standings since gaining full-time promotion to the WRC’s premier league in 2014.
“I have never really had a championship campaign before, but I am much more happy to be fighting at the front,” grinned this season’s only two-time winner, before acknowledging the big role Toyota has played in his new-found confidence and competitiveness.
“It has been a positive step in my career. I have settled into the team and am enjoying driving the car. It has started to come together for us.”
Sardinia, however, will be another tough test for Evans and Martin, not least as being championship leaders, they will be first onto the opening day’s special stages. Acting as road-sweepers, they will disperse the loose gravel from the surface giving more grip to those rival cars coming behind.
It is, though, a rally that already holds a special place in the Welshman’s heart, as it was in Sardinia seven years ago that he first experienced the exhilaration generated by one of the latest generation of super-fast World Rally Cars.
“I think every driver remembers the first time they got behind the wheel of a World Rally Car, and for that reason, Sardinia will always be a really special place for me,” he confirmed. “It’s not an easy rally, but once you’ve been there a few times you really learn to enjoy the challenging nature of the stages.”
With Evans’ home round of Wales Rally GB and Rally Japan falling victim to the global pandemic, the dramatic 2020 WRC title race could go down to the wire at the newly-introduced Renties Ypres Rally Belgium (19-22 November).