Elfyn Evans is on the cusp of history. Leading the points heading into the final two rounds of this year’s World Rally Championship (WRC), the Welshman is close to becoming just the third Brit to claim the title, after Colin McRae and Richard Burns. You might have heard of them.
It’s an elite list and one that, in truth, few would have expected Evans to have a chance of joining at the start of the 2020 season. When the 31-year-old was announced as part of an all-new line-up at Toyota’s title-winning rally squad, he was expected to be the solid number two to six-time world champion team-mate Sébastien Ogier, a useful dose of steady experience while hotly tipped 20-year-old Kalle Rovanperä learnt his trade in a third Yaris WRC.
But in a year when little has gone as expected, Evans’ form has been a major surprise. He starred on the Monte Carlo Rally and then became the first British driver to win on the snow-covered Rally Sweden. A well-judged win in Turkey has helped him establish a 14-point lead over Ogier.
It’s a major jump in form for a driver who had taken just one WRC win before this year. And while switching from the privateer M-Sport Ford team to Toyota’s manufacturer squad helped, the fact that he’s rivalling Ogier for pace in the same car shows this isn’t just about machinery.
So, what has made the difference? “Settling into a new team, I was a bit apprehensive,” says Evans. “M-Sport had become as much a home as a team. But immediately I felt at home in the car, with a good feeling for what was going on underneath me. It has been okay: I’m not completely satisfied with everything we’ve done – or I’ve done – but overall, it has been good.”
As his comments suggest, Evans isn’t a particularly flamboyant or extravagant rally driver. He remains as unassumingly polite and friendly as when he first started rallying in a 1.0-litre Nissan Micra aged 17. And he still lives within five miles of his home town of Dolgellau in North Wales.
But don’t let that exterior fool you: Evans has the inner fire, determination and quiet confidence that any world-class sportsperson requires. There’s a work ethic, too, which he has needed in his occasionally winding path to WRC title contender.
Despite being the son of former British champion – and Dolgellau’s leading Ford dealer – Gwyndaf, Evans had to work his way up the rallying ladder on merit. To ensure that he understood his craft, Gwyndaf made Elfyn build up his first rally car, that Formula 1000 Micra. Instead of rushing into a four-wheel-drive car, he spent time honing his skills in grip-limited front-drive cars, primarily in the one-make Fiesta Sport Trophy. Multiple title wins followed, with victory in a Pirelli competition securing him a season in the British Rally Championship in a Group N Subaru Impreza and a win in an international Fiesta shootout netting him a job with M-Sport’s WRC squad.
Regardless of the journey, the key is where Evans is now: two rallies away from history. It might be unexpected, but it’s thoroughly well deserved.
Britain’s WRC champs
Colin McRae became the first Brit to win the WRC, in dramatic fashion, in 1995. Like Elfyn Evans, the Scot headed into the season expected to serve as number two to title-winning Subaru team-mate Carlos Sainz – and was even forced to slow down for the Spaniard in Catalunya due to team orders.
But the pair were allowed to battle evenly on the season-ending RAC Rally and McRae claimed a dominant victory, with Sainz admitting that he simply couldn’t get close to McRae’s pace.
Richard Burns also claimed his sole title, in 2001, on a tense Rally GB finale. The Subaru driver was involved in a four-way battle but his closest rival was McRae, now at Ford. When McRae crashed out, Burns put in a well-judged drive to take third and secure the crown.