“We already have a new Evans for 2016”
The World Rally Championship season opener in Monte Carlo never short-changes in terms of action, incident, drama and intrigue. And boy, were we treated to a positive smorgasbord of rallying delights this time round in the Principality and the mountains inland from the glorious French Riviera.
From wild conspiracy theories surrounding the Kris Meeke ‘rockgate’ incident to underperforming Hyundais; from surly Spaniards to Polish goodbyes, this Monte had the lot.
But for me, as a proudly British rally fan, there was one standout performance.
The sometime sublime but often infuriatingly frustrating Welsh wonderboy Elfyn Evans has had a funny old few weeks. I’m quite happy to say on record that my biggest disappointment at Rally GB was the lack of fight shown by Evans when faced with a do-or-die ultimatum from the bosses at M-sport.
On the face of it, it was a cowardly capitulation. On the evidence displayed in Wales, no one could really argue with Malcolm Wilson’s decision to cut his losses and look elsewhere for the next big thing in rallying.
But as is so often the case, in adversity, the human spirit digs into its darkest recess to reinvent itself.
Step forward the 2016 version of the man we once knew as Elfyn. This wasn’t the timid, shy, retiring, apologetic, under-performing boy who quietly left the WRC service park in Deeside, bound for the nearest job centre.
The man with the Welsh flag flying proudly on the side of the R5 Fiesta in Monte had grown a pair. There was fight, there was grit, there was commitment, there was speed and, above all, there was a result.
His performance in winning the R5 category last week was nothing short of sensational. A puncture in the very first stage would have floored a lesser man, not the new Evans. A stunning fightback was temporarily stalled by a second puncture in SS9. Again, he picked himself up and launched himself along Alpine passes with devastating effect. The win was hard-fought and richly deserved.
Right now I believe Evans, early as it may be in the season, has established himself as the hottest young property in the WRC field. He has class, style, speed and ruthlessness oozing from his once milky white pores. Keep this up and he might well have the pick of M-sport, Citroen, Toyota and maybe even Hyundai seats come the end of the season.
The painful memory of the winter just gone is fading fast. The shoulders are broader, the stance wider, the heart bigger, the eyes wider.
A new man stands before us.