The son of a famous father is now making his mark on world rallying’s highest stage. Alex Harmer spoke to him
It’s been more than 10 years since British drivers appeared near the top of the World Rally Championship standings but, along with Citroën’s Kris Meeke, Elfyn Evans has been delivering consistent results in his first full season with Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport. With fourth places in Mexico and Germany and one power stage victory, the softly spoken Welshman is starting to deliver on the potential displayed in the junior ranks.
As the son of 1996 British Rally Champion Gwyndaf Evans, Elfyn had a great opportunity to learn from a young age. But it took him a while to realise this was the path he wanted to follow.
“I grew into it in a way,” he says. “When I was a kid everything I did involved engines and wheels. I learned to drive when I was eight and did a bit of racing on a motocross bike. So the obsession was there, but rallying wasn’t something I was pushed into or something that the family was ultra-keen on. It was just something that happened.
“The closer I got to 17, the more I wanted to give it a go. Dad said ‘OK, if you want to do it, this is where you’re going’. It was a Formula 1000 championship and I had to build my own car with the help of some guys at the family dealership. It was a great way to start rallying, albeit with only 50bhp.”
The family might not have been over the moon with the idea – “Dad’ll say it was the risk, the truth is cost,” Elfyn laughs – but once he’d made his mind up, his father’s expertise was indispensable.
“He’s been through that world himself and it wasn’t something he wanted to force on me. If you don’t get that special feeling from it I don’t think you enjoy it.”
Gwyndaf’s guidance was essential to Elfyn’s decision-making and put him in a good position to progress and get noticed. “To be honest,” Elfyn says, “he virtually managed me the whole way through in terms of driver coaching and where to compete. That was a big part of how I made it up the ranks.”
M-Sport came into the picture at an early stage as well. “At 18 I did the Fiesta Sporting Trophy, which coincides with M-Sport’s ‘Ladder of Opportunity’. That was the lowest level at which you could compete in an M-Sport car. I started in the STs, then went into the R2s and the WRC2 and managed to win in all of them. These were all places where Dad was keen for me to compete.
“On the back of that I had the opportunity to drive M-Sport’s next class of car, which is the R5, then I got the chance in a full World Rally Car. So I’ve been with M-Sport a long time, even if it only seems like a year.”
So what was it like to step up to a full WRC drive?
“The initial feeling was a little bit surreal. I grew up watching Mikko Hirvonen and all of a sudden I’m his team-mate and I’m supposed to be challenging him. You really feel out of place, because you’ve been looking up to these guys for so many years. But we’re 11 rallies in and I feel a lot more comfortable in the environment. There’s still work to be done if I’m to beat these guys, but we’re making progress.”
Although the calm and consistent approach has worked this year as Elfyn learns new rallies, the last event of the season, Wales Rally GB, is one he knows well. “Experience counts for a lot. It isn’t as critical to get the mileage, but you don’t learn anything sitting in the service park with your car in a ball. So you don’t start an event throwing everything you’ve got at it. Saying that, you’re never really happy unless you’re number one.”
Career in brief
Born: 28/12/1988, Dolgellau, Wales
2006 F1000 Rally Championship, 2nd
2007 Fiesta Sporting Trophy, 3rd
2008 Fiesta Sporting Trophy, 1st UK & Ireland
2010 Fiesta Sporting Trophy, 1st in UK
2011 British Rally Championship, 2nd
2012 1st in WRC Academy, BRC R2
2014 World Rally Championship