WRC 2024 Preview: Is this Elfyn’s year?
This year must be Elfyn Evans’ best chance to win the FIA World Rally Championship, emulating the heroics of the UK’s two previous WRC title winners Colin McRae and Richard Burns.
Since joining Toyota at the start of 2020, the 35-year-old Welshman has finished runner-up to team-mates Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä no fewer than three times. Now, though, neither Ogier nor Rovanperä are contesting the full 13-round championship, which blasts off in the mountains behind Monte Carlo on Thursday evening, so Evans and co-driver Scott Martin are the all-conquering Japanese company’s top ranking, full-time crew for the 2024 campaign.
“We have enjoyed some fantastic success over the last few seasons and we naturally hope to continue this in 2024,” confirmed Jari-Matti Latvala, Team Principal of the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC Team. “We expect an even greater challenge and it will be even tougher to claim all the titles. To win the manufacturers’ championship once again will be our primary target, and if we can achieve the drivers’ and co-drivers’ titles too, that would be a really great bonus.”
While Evans is unlikely to face stiff opposition from within his own team, arch rival Hyundai Motorsport has strengthened its line-up over the winter with former champion Ott Tanak returning to join Thierry Neuville to muster a super-competitive two-pronged attack.
“Of course, we want even more in 2024 but it’s not going to be easy to achieve that,” warned Elfyn who is a graduate of Motorsport UK’s Team UK programme, established to mentor the country’s top young talents. “We know that the competition will be tough like usual, so as a team we’re always working to continually improve and we’re ready to give this season our best shot.”
Although Toyota has won a hat-trick of manufacturers’, drivers’ and co-drivers’ titles in each of the past three years, it continues to develop and improve the GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID. Since Evans won the 2023 finale in Japan, the engine has been updated to further improve response at low speeds, and the torque curve has been tweaked, too. Moreover, the car has a dramatically different look for the new season thanks to a striking matte black livery.
Incredibly it is more than 50 years since a British driver last won the Monte – the versatile Vic Elford in a Porsche way back in 1968. While that’s a drought Evans would love to end this weekend, he knows the season-opener is always unpredictable, with competitors facing treacherous mountain roads covered with a slippery cocktail of snow and ice.
“With Rallye Monte-Carlo moving north again this year, we’re much more likely to see wintery conditions forming part of the challenge,” predicted the former British Rally Champion. “We had some tricky conditions in our pre-event test, so that provided some good practice, but this rally is all about adapting to whichever conditions we face during the weekend.”
Adding to the unknown, there has been a radical change to the WRC points system for 2024, aimed at enhancing the sporting spectacle on the final day of rallies. Points will now be allocated based on the positions at the end of Saturday on a scale of 18-15-13-10-8-6-4-3-2-1, although crews must still reach the finish of the rally on Sunday to be awarded these points. A separate classification will combine all of Sunday’s stages and award points on a 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale. The rally-ending Power Stage remains in place offering up to five bonus points.
Whatever the outcome, Evans says he’s ready. “I’m really looking forward to getting the season kicked off,” he confirmed… and for very good reason, too. Fingers crossed, this really could be his year!
You can follow all of Elfyn’s exploits on TNT Sports – live broadcasts commence with coverage of the season’s first timed special stage on Thursday evening.