Why 2020 will be the year of Elfyn Evans

Published: 12 March 2020

► WRC driver speaks exclusively to CAR
► First Brit to ever win Rally Sweden
► Preparing to build on success in Mexico

Elfyn Evans really needs to work a bit harder on his top-of-the-world banter. The current leader of the World Rally Championship, after his historic win at Rally Sweden, is politely declining every opportunity to gloat, pout, strut or even put his cap on backwards.

Instead he's calm, measured and analytical, and thinking ahead. That's very much like the way he drives. And that's currently serving him extremely well.

'It's good to get a win on the board. It's not so easy to win a rally these days, so if you get a chance at one then you have to do everything you can to win. It's not easy out there.'

There have been massive changes for much of WRC between 2019 and 2020, with Citroën dropping out and several big names changing teams or finding themselves without a drive. Evans is coping better than most. He first competed in WRC in 2007, and almost all his rallying has been in Ford Fiestas run by M-Sport. But at the end of the 2019 season, which he finished in fifth place, he switched to a Yaris run by the works Toyota team.

Elfyn Evans snow

'It's a big change. At M-Sport I lived on site at the factory for three years, knew everybody more or less by their first name, and all of a sudden you come to a completely new environment, although there's a small crossover with engineers that I worked with at M-Sport. The majority of the faces are new, the service area structure is new, the car is all new and there's a lot of new things that are going on.

'But it's been a smoother experience than I expected, and that's mostly down to how easy the team has allowed it to be, being very welcoming, easygoing and friendly. But also giving every opportunity to spend time in the workshop, getting to know the car, and having as many test days as possible in the winter.

'It's not normal to have that many changes, but I'm pleased with how smoothly it's gone.'

At Toyota his team-mates are six-time world champion Sebastien Ogier and teenager Kalle Rovanpera. All three are new to the Yaris, but Evans followed his third place in round one, in Monte Carlo, by becoming the first Brit to ever win Rally Sweden.

It was only Evans' second ever WRC win. But look more closely at the results sheets over the last few years and you'll see an increasing number of top-five finishes, and very few DNFs.

Despite Ogier's higher profile, there are no team orders. 'That's been the general rule inside Toyota, that each driver has an equal opportunity to compete at the same level, and that was obviously a big question when I moved. The team is very fair. We're free to fight for the wins, as the weekend clearly shows.'

It was a far from typical Scandinavian round, with hardly any snow or ice. But, of course, the conditions were the same for everybody, and if Evans got lucky then that's because he made his own luck.

Elfyn Evans cornering

'We'd had quite a productive test in Finland a few days before the rally started, and already I'd found a very good set-up and a place in the car I was very happy with, and it gave great confidence, and that carried forward to the rally, and I was able to drive exactly as I wanted. It happened all very naturally and I had great confidence behind the wheel.

'Often when the conditions are changeable like that, if you have good confidence and a good feel for what's going on underneath you, then that can make a big difference.'

At Mexico, he finished third in 2019.

'One big difference will be the road position. Mexico isn't one of the rallies where you choose to open the road. There's a big disadvantage compared to those running at the back of the field, because the loose gravel is swept with every car that passes. Therefore you get more grip the further back that you are.

'But we have to still go with a positive frame of mind and prepare as well as we can and see what's possible. It's always a tall order to try and win that type of rally, starting first, but that's not to say you can't do a strong result.'

Preparation for Mexico includes going out a few days earlier to acclimatise, but first there's some fitness work to at home in mid-Wales, where his dad Gwyndaf Evans – a former British rally champion – runs the family business, a Ford and Suzuki dealership.

Elfyn Evans cockpit

'You'll generally spend a day or two when you come home to review what you've just been doing, like we have the last couple of days, and then there's a physical element as well. With Mexico there's the heat and the altitude we'll face after a pretty cold winter in Wales, and the first two rallies. Mexico will be – and always is – a bit of a shock to the system, so we'll try and prepare physically as well as we can for that.'

When we spoke he was keenly anticipating the arrival from Toyota of one of the perks of the job – a pick-up truck.

'I have a Hilux coming on Friday, which will be nice to transport my mountain bike and all that stuff to aid my training. I do a lot of mountain biking. I'm looking forward to that.'

And while he's at it he really ought to work on his top-of-the-world banter – because this really could be the year he brings the WRC crown to Britain for the first time since Richard Burns in 2001.

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By Colin Overland

CAR's managing editor: wordsmith, critic, purveyor of fine captions