Bullish Elfyn Evans on WRC finale: 'Anything can happen'

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Elfyn Evans has a mountain to climb in Monza, but the Welshman knows from past experience that it's all to play for in the WRC finale

Elfyn lead

Evans is up against it to win the WRC title this year, but his experience from last season means he knows the unlikely is still possible


Elfyn Evans might feel like he has been here before – then again, maybe not.

In this year’s WRC finale the hunted will become the hunter – last year Evans was the one being chased down by seven-time champion Sébastien Ogier at the season-closing Monza round. Now, the roles are reversed as the Welshman is looking to catch his Toyota team-mate down on the Temple of Speed’s banking and back roads.

17 points might seem a tall order to turn around in one event, but as the man looking to score Britain’s first WRC crown in 20 years told Motor Sport, “Anything can happen.”

He learnt that last year when, going into the final round with a 14-point lead over the formidable Frenchman, he agonisingly slid off an icy mountain path and out of the rally whilst in third, which would have been easily enough to take the title.

This year has been another rollercoaster in terms of emotions for the Welshman.

Elfyn Monza

Banking plus mud (with potential added ice) brings unique challenge in Monza

Red Bull

Having previously been ten points closer to the Ogier after an impressive early ‘21 season run which included a Portugal win and four podiums in five rallies, it all started to go a bit awry, as he explains.

“It’s not been a bad season, but also not one that I’ve been completely satisfied with either to be honest,” he says.

“There was a really good, consistent stream of results at the start of the year. Perhaps not blindingly fast, but always in the mix.

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“The worst part of the year came in the middle – I took a wheel off in Kenya and then had a string of not-so-great performances.”

Evans points to a testing session in Estonia with his Toyota team-mates which arrested that run of unremarkable results, utilising past experiences of set-up dead-ends to launch himself to an incredible Rally Finland victory.

“It’s no secret that I went in a bit different direction to the other two guys in terms of setup,” he says. “It came off the back of Rally Estonia where I never fully felt comfortable in the car. I felt I’d nothing to lose in a way, because I knew taking the same set-up as the other guys wouldn’t work for me.

“So I had to find something that suited me a bit better, and that’s what we ultimately managed to do on the test.”

The results at the next round in Finland were nothing short of explosive – after feeling his way in on the first day, it was then “stage win after stage win – there was a couple of things going on on Friday that perhaps didn’t allow us to unlock our full potential, but as soon as we got to Saturday morning, we dialled them out. It really improved the feeling and gave a lot of confidence.”

In a highly competitive battle which included Ogier and team-mate Kalle Rovanperä, Hyundai’s Ott Tänak and Craig Breen, Evans won an incredible five stages in a row from SS6 onwards, leaping from fourth to first and gradually pulling out a gap of 7sec.

Elfyn jump

Evans cracked the set-up in Finland, and flew as a result

Red Bull

This year and last, Evans has gone up against one of the all-time rallying greats in Ogier for the title. Three years ago, the two were team-mates at M-Sport, and Evans credits some of what he learnt of that experience to moments such as his set-up breakthrough in Finland.

“I fell into the trap of that time actually trying to copy of him too much, perhaps,” admits Evans. “If a multiple World Champion is saying that setup is right, then it’s right – that was the view I had back then.

“Once Seb left then I found my own feet a lot more at M-Sport, and probably had much better results after he left than when he was actually there.

“I think it’s a combination of learning to work together but also having faith in your own style, your own approach and doing your own thing.”

Faith in his own driving style was certainly needed as light faded into the night stages in Finland, when Evans only further stamped his authority on the rally.

What helped him navigate those treacherous Finnish forest in the dark?

“You have to really just focus on concentrating, to be honest!” he laughs. “It’s almost like driving in the dark doesn’t allow you to think about anything else. I felt like we’d made some pretty good pace notes – I had to just commit to those and go for it.”

A further five stage wins meant Evans sealed the win with a 14.1sec advantage over Tänak. The Welshman’s fifth WRC victory, and this time on the ‘rally driver’s rally’, meant Evans got his title challenge back on track in a special way. He ranks it alongside another breakthrough win last season.

“The two Nordic rallies valley – Sweden [2020] and Finland, they were both, let’s say, quite similar in terms of being my highest in pure performance.”

A second place in Spain furthered his chances, but Evans knows it is a performance level which must be maintained if he is to have any chance of overturning the sizeable deficit to Ogier. He also admits it would be extra sweet to do so whilst the eight-time champion is still driving full-time, with the Frenchman only competing in a handful events next year as he winds down a record-breaking career.

“The simple fact that he’s an eight-time world champion, you don’t achieve that lightly,” says Evans. “I don’t think any sort of modern day champion in any discipline is a one-trick pony. He’s not just very talented, he’s not just very hard working, it’s all those things coming together, plus being in a good car as well.

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“Seb virtually ticks all the boxes, he hasn’t got many weaknesses and he’s got a massive amount of grit and determination when his back is up against the wall. Sometimes it’s those special performances that he can pull out the bag that can make a difference, even when the chips are down.”

“There’s only one person that’s actually managed to beat Séb [Ott Tänak] since he was [first crowned WRC champion]. Of course I would rather take the title against Séb, that would make it a bit more special. I still have a fairly big uphill battle to achieve that with only one round to go. Anything can happen, you can’t take anything for granted.”

One more element which would sweeten a title victory even more for Evans is claiming a crown whilst driving one of the current generation of WRC cars, as the championship moves to the new Rally1 hybrid rules. Despite power being increased to 500bhp (up from 380bhp), reduced aerodynamics and suspension travel, plus a tougher and 100kg heavier chassis, means the new cars will in fact be slower than the old.

Thierry Neuville criticised the changes, describing them as a “pity” whilst lamenting that “nobody has the balls to go against what the FIA is deciding”, and Evans isn’t much more positive.

“Not necessarily,” he says when asked if he thinks the FIA is going in the right direction with its WRC rules. “I think we will miss these cars, we’re very lucky to have this set of regulations. The driving joy that I’ve had from them has been massive.

Elfyn Monza 2

Can Evans turn the tables in Monza?

Red Bull

“I am certainly very surprised in some of the regulation changes, it just doesn’t seem logical at all. To make things so basic when the technology was already there and possible, it seems a bit of a backwards way of doing things.

“But that’s nothing new – if you look from the early 2000s, we’ve gone from active [suspension] to fully mechanical, back to active and now back to fully mechanical again. The same with a paddle shift or the sequential lever – I don’t know how many times that’s done a U-turn. They seem to really be struggling to make their minds up on what’s the right direction.

“How good or bad it’s gonna be though, it’s still unclear at the moment – it’s a bit early to judge. I’m still excited for the new challenge.”

For now though, the unflappable Evans is focused on the task in hand in Monza this weekend. As last year so painfully taught him, it’s still all to play for.