Tale of the unexpected

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Alongside sat Gil de Ferran, already crowned as British F3 champion. It wasn’t that the Brazilian had suffered outrageous ill-fortune during practice, it was just that Paul Evans, an ambitious 20 year-old from Wokingham, was soaking up the unexpected buzz of starting his year-old F3 Ralt from the second row of the grid at Donington Park. Not one who usually trembles at the prospect of a green light, Paul confesses that there were a few surplus butterflies doing the rounds that September afternoon, as he surveyed the string of familiar, front-running liveries that shimmered in his mirrors.

It was just one of a stirring series of performances from a young man in only his second season of racing. His success in class B of the British F3 series, with eight wins from 15 starts, was something of a surprise. Not because his natural speed was any great revelation, but because he’d never expected to contest the series in the first place. It all happened rather by chance.

Paul and his father-cum-staunchest-supporter Ken spent winter 1991 pursuing funds for a crack at Formula Vauxhall Lotus. The idea of tackling anything as ambitious as F3, even in the cheaper B class, had never occurred to them…

***

Evans’ passion for the sport was fired up when he and his father dropped in to watch a friend racing his kart at Blackbushe. Both were instantly hooked, and at the age of 13 Paul made his debut in the Junior Britain class. His most successful season was his fifth, and last, when he finished second in the British Super National Championship.

By now 18, he graduated to cars, contesting the 1990 Brands Hatch Formula Forward Winterseries with ME Motorsport. Although designed as a stepping-stone category for the ambitious, Formula Forward has never really caught on in a market-place saturated with options for the racing rookie. Paul is satisfied that it was a sensible move, however. “I tried a Formula Ford car but I didn’t really enjoy it. After karting, I found that Forward suited my style much better. I was already used to slicks, of course, and it was a chance to learn all about setting up a car with wings. It was a good education.”

He finished second in his very first race, and was in with a chance of taking the championship until the weather intervened and caused the final round of the series to be cancelled.

Happy with his lot at ME, he tackled the national championship in 1991, but despite three wins and a handful of podium finishes he only placed fourth in the points table. Short of funds, he skipped the Winterseries to concentrate on finding a suitable berth in Vauxhall Lotus.

In-between sponsor-chasing, he spent his time earning a crust as a mechanic for Mark Bailey Racing, which was gearing up for an assault on class B of the national F3 series. Paul thus got to plenty of test sessions, albeit working on William Hewland’s Ralt rather than sitting in the thing.

Just before the season got under way, Hewland had a hefty accident at Silverstone. The damage was extensive, and he was forced to miss the opening race of the season. Indeed, it was deemed prudent to purchase a replacement.

That left one crumpled Ralt in Bailey’s workshops, and a deal was swiftly struck: if Evans fixed it and provided an engine, he could race it. It took two weeks to straighten the RT35, which was recognisable as a racing car in time for the second round, where Paul finished eighth overall and scored a class win on his debut. Highlights of the year included a fifth place overall at Thruxton, where main rival Hilton Cowie had the impudence to lead the race outright for a couple of laps, and that second row qualifying effort at Donington.

“Hilton and I had some good battles,” recalls Paul. “My most satisfying win was at Silverstone in August. We had a really close scrap, and I just beat him. Unfortunately, he was disqualified after the race for a flag infringement, which more or less guaranteed me the title and took the pressure off for the last couple of races.

“Racing with Mark was really good. There’s a lovely family atmosphere in the team, with his mum cooking the lunch and so on, and my dad couldn’t keep his hands off the car, the same as when I was in karting. I think a happy team makes for a happy driver. Really, there weren’t any low points to the year. We got good results, and I learned an awful lot.” Money had to be found as and when, and support from local firm The Total Tyre and Exhaust Company was particularly welcome.

His prize for winning the championship was a test run in de Ferran’s title-winning Reynard, and he impressed the PSR team with his pace, lapping just 0.1s slower than the Brazilian’s pole time in the Silverstone finale. He is now focussing his attention firmly on securing a top-line class A drive this year. “1 don’t want to think too far ahead. I prefer to take one season at a time. Obviously, I’d like to think I can keep making progress, but my immediate objective is to win races outright in 1993 and go for the championship.”

As this issue of MOTOR SPORT rolls off the presses, Paul will be on his way to India, to take part in a brace of Formula 3 races in an Edenbridge Reynard. One of the cars he’ll be competing against is the Ralt which carried him to the title. It’s an experience he’s looking forward to, though he didn’t learn much when he shook the car down at Snetterton, where the supersoft suspension required to accommodate the concrete ripples of Madras rendered lap times fairly meaningless.

He’s also been advised to take his own food. Mark Bailey’s mum will not, sadly, be on hand to supervise catering arrangements… SA