There’s a change happening in the FIA World Rally Championship, nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb is long gone*, one of the few drivers who gave him trouble – Mikko Hirvonen competed in his last WRC rally after announcing his retirement before Wales Rally GB and there is a new generation of rally stars.
One of those upcoming drivers has rallying in his blood – Elfyn Evans; his father Gwyndaf was a regular on the WRC circuit from the late 80’s through to the early 2000s so Evans Jr has grown up in the service parks of the world as his playground.
Earlier this year at the Wilton Classic and Supercar event we had chance to catch up with Elfyn in the confines of the Castrol marquee away from the pouring rain.
Evans first saw action in WRC in 2007 in a privateer Ford Fiesta ST where he finished 42nd in the 2007 Rally GB, fast forward seven years and he is now in the top WRC class competing with the world class M-Sport team having collected the WRC Academy title in 2012 with four out of six wins plus the R2 title in British Rally Championship.
2013 saw a mix of three different cars, the Ford Fiesta RRC, Fiesta RS WRC and the Fiesta R5, securing enough points to take 12th in the championship from seven rallies.
For 2014 M-Sport presented him with the opportunity to race in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC alongside the legendary Hirvonen.
“The year had been on whole not too bad, we’re very much on a learning year” says the Welshman.
“It’s the first year for us in WRC and therefore some rallies have been more difficult than others. We’ve entered in to a lot of new rallies at the start of the year and now the rallies become more familiar so it should be a little bit easier, but of course as the season progresses the pace increases and it becomes more and more difficult to close the gap to the leaders.”
Evans has done a sterling job this year in stepping up to the main WRC class this year and has been knocking on the door of a podium all year with a fourth place finish in Mexico and again in Germany, a tough job when the Volkswagens of Ogier, Latvalla and Mikkelsen have dominated up front.
“I think just the change in speed has been the biggest thing in stepping up to WRC and realising the level is at the top,
“Where I’ve come through the ranks I’ve always settled in fairly comfortably into WRC in the junior series then in to WRC2, but to be honest at the very top level you do appreciate how high the level is and where you need to get to.
“The more time we spend there the more I realise I’ve still got room to improve, there is potential there to hopefully go all of the way to the top. So we are looking at it in a positive light.”
When we spoke to Evans it was just before Rallye Deutschland, with five rallies left the 25-year-old had his sights on making the most of the season to hit the ground running in 2015.
“We’ve tried to maximise this year as a learning year rather than a year of trying to put performances together. If we can maximise that and start to ramp up towards a good season next year that will be good.”
Driving time in a WRC car is limited these days so it can be difficult to adapt to some of the surfaces across the world.
“Testing varies from event to event; obviously with the regulations as they are we don’t get to test for the long haul events outside of Europe, normally its quite limited testing for those events
“For the European events we’ve had good seat time, you know we’ll be doing another test before we head off to Germany next week, so there is good time in the car and it’s been massively different to the time I’ve had in previous years; so for its a great opportunity to get in the car and drive.”
Rallying has had a tough time in recent years, changes in regulations and promoters have seen the sport take dip in popularity but this year has seen things turn around.
“I think to be honest the spectacle is still there” says Evans, “I think there’s question marks over how it has been portrayed and I think that the people who actually come out to the rallies and can appreciate the spectacle and speed are literally blown away by the speed.
“There were so many people who came up to us in Finland saying the speed was just absolutely incredible. If we can get that across a bit better then I think to be honest there is little that needs to be done to the sport, the ingredients are there and they are the same as they always have been.
“I really hope that with the new promoter the effort they are putting in that the popularity will keep increasing.”
As a final question before Elfyn was called away for further interviews for Castrol we asked him if he would ever consider doing something different to WRC.
“I’ve got interests in various motorsports, rallying has obviously been a big part, but you know rallycross seems very popular at the minute.
“I’ve always had a big passion for bikes, but I can’t really do bikes anymore because of the safety aspect and risk of breaking your arm or something, but to be honest right at the minute the focus is purely on learning WRC.
“Maybe when I start getting a little more comfortable it’ll be easier to fit other things in, but at the moment my sole focus is WRC and getting up to the top level, so I’m not actively looking for anything at the moment but I never turn a drive down.”
*Just after this interview was published Sebastien Loeb announced he would be returning for a one-off rally at Monte-Carlo 2015