Last year the new generation of World Rally cars helped deliver, arguably, one of the best championships since the old Group B days; only without the tragedy. It also saw the steady rise to the top echelon of another British rally ace, Elfyn Evans, the son of the legendary Gwyndaf as rally fans will remember.
On The Top World Rally Step
Elfyn Evans’ bid to add further success to his history-making win on last year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB blasts off with this week’s Rallye Monte-Carlo on 25th January, the traditional opener for the World Rally Championship.
As in the past, the FIA WRC commences with the notoriously challenging Alpine classic – a wintry event that always throws up an ultra-testing cocktail of ice, snow and slush making the already demanding mountain roads among the trickiest on the thirteen-round World Rally calendar, which reaches Wales in early October.
Evans has contested Rallye Monte-Carlo four times previously and has never finished outside the top eight. His best result to date is sixth place on his debut in 2014 and again last year.
“It’s never an easy event,” the 29-year-old star is quoted as saying. “There are so many factors that come into play that you don’t generally get on a more normal round of the championship but it’s an iconic way to start the year. The stages themselves – if you take away all the snow and ice – are absolutely fantastic.”
Since taking his maiden World Rally Championship win in Wales – the first for a Welsh driver, and the first for a British driver on home soil since the late Richard Burns in 2000 – Evans has been promoted by his title-winning M-Sport team. For 2018, he and co-driver Daniel Barritt line up alongside five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier in one of the Cumbrian outfit’s pair of front-line Red Bull-liveried Ford Fiesta WRCs.
“It’s a good place to be alongside Seb again this year,” he said. “We worked together well last year – albeit on different tyres – so to continue that on now with identical equipment is a fantastic opportunity.”
While clearly keen to make the most of his coveted seat alongside the French maestro, Evans is by no means overawed by his illustrious team-mate. “He’s a fantastic benchmark to have in the team, has a lot of experience and is the best in the world at the moment, so you’d be a fool not to capitalise on that and learn from him. My aim, though, is always to try to beat him if we can.”
And the Welshman is certainly brimming with confidence after his break-through season in 2017 when he not only posted his first World Rally victory but also two impressive second place finishes en route to fifth place in the final championship standings.
Evans, though, will need to be at his brilliant best not just to beat Ogier but also to fend off some world class opposition in what promises to be another thrilling world championship series. Last year’s introduction of new technical rules not only introduced faster, more exciting cars but also created renewed rivalry between the top teams.
M-Sport might have won both the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ crowns in 2017 but the opposition from Citroën, Hyundai and Toyota will be even stronger in 2018. Evans, however, believes the M-Sport technicians – now benefiting from increased support from Ford – will keep the Fiesta in front.
The World Rally Year Ahead
While next week’s famous Rallye Monte-Carlo will provide a stern opening test, the WRC calendar throws up numerous challenges before the teams encounter the dark Welsh forests in early October. As ever, the calendar is an epic adventure ranging from the snow packed tracks of Sweden to the rock-strewn mountain passes of Mexico and Argentina.
“To be honest, there are no rounds that I’m not looking forward to,” continued Evans. “I now have fond memories of just about all of the events. My focus this year will be to enjoy them all and to get the most out of each one, rather just targeting a handful”.
Over at Citroen Chris Meeke has retained his seat despite some mixed results and the occasional disaster last year. He will be determined to achieve some consistency. All the drivers will certainly have to be on their best mettle as this year sees the return, for a limited number of events of The Legend himself, nine-times World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb, also driving for Citroen.
Rally fans have not been well served by British TV in recent years but at least we can see some live coverage and recorded highlights of this year’s championship on Channel 5, BT Sport, S4C and, the best of the bunch Red Bull TV. Geoff Maxted