Twenty years ago Evans ended the wait with BRC win. By Jack Benyon

Motor Sport News - - Headline News -

Have a look back through the rally his­tory books, and find a driver as good as this one who didn’t win a ma­jor ti­tle for seven years.

Gwyn­daf Evans dom­i­nated the Group N class in his first full year of Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship com­pe­ti­tion in 1988, fin­ish­ing sixth over­all in the stand­ings along with co-driver Howard Davies. Not a bad start in one of the BRC’S most com­pet­i­tive eras.

By 1995, Evans was a works Ford test driver and right­fully re­spected as one of the top rally driv­ers in the coun­try. But still a ti­tle eluded him.

A strong per­for­mance in the pre­vi­ous year had set up a con­fi­dent Evans for a ti­tle charge in 1996,af­ter plenty of de­vel­op­ment work on the Gor­don Spooner-pre­pared Ford Es­cort RS2000, as the F2 era was just get­ting un­der­way. Al­though Evans counted him­self among the favourites, he knew there were chal­lenges com­ing from Re­nault, Volk­swa­gen, Nis­san and some other Fords. It was game on.

“By that time, the car was al­most two years old and there were seven or eight man­u­fac­tur­ers, so we were gear­ing up for a fight,” ex­plains Evans. “We had a good run on the RAC in 1995, and we ap­proached it with the feel­ing that we had a chance but so did a lot of the other driv­ers.”

Af­ter the first round, it looked like Evans was set for a walkover and that any talk of a real man­u­fac­turer bat­tle was over. In the opener – the Vaux­hall Rally of Wales in Evans’ back­yard – Mark Hig­gins had gear se­lec­tion is­sues on his de­but for Nis­san and Rob­bie Head’s co-driver Bryan Thomas lost his place in the notes in Clo­caenog, leav­ing more than a slight dose of ten­sion in the Re­nault Me­gane be­fore the head gas­ket went.

Not that it mat­tered. On the same stage – Clo­caenog Mid – Evans was fastest over­all. Let’s just put that into con­text: the F2 cars were the quick­est el­i­gi­ble for the BRC ti­tle, but four-wheel-drive Group A World Rally Cars could, and did, still en­ter. Two Ford Es­cort Cos­worths were fron­trun­ning, in­clud­ing one in the hands of Alis­ter Mcrae, and Evans still went quick­est over­all. In a front-wheel-drive car. On gravel. It was sim­ply in­cred­i­ble.

Evans cruised to the win in F2 and third over­all on the event be­hind the two Es­corts of Mcrae and Ari Mokko­nen, but it was a Finn be­hind that Evans would be keep­ing an eye on; Jarmo Ky­tole­hto. By this stage in his ca­reer he had fin­ished on the podium on a WRC event and was back for more BRC ac­tion in 1996 hav­ing won the Scot­tish in the F2 cat­e­gory the year be­fore. Would he hang around for the year? We’d have to wait and see.

But for Evans, the dom­i­nant dis­play on the opener left him on a high. “It doesn’t half boost your con­fi­dence when you have a good run on the open­ing round. It puts ev­ery­body else on the back foot,” says Evans. “I re­mem­ber com­ing through My­herin and the rain was just streak­ing down. It poured it down all rally. Sur­pris­ingly, ev­ery­thing went well and it was a great start to the year.”

The se­cond round, the Pirelli Carlisle Rally, saw one of Evans’ big­gest chal­lengers fall. Mark Hig­gins had ended up se­cond to the Welsh­man on the Rally of Wales, but a spec­tac­u­lar flip on the Cum­brian event meant that he was air­lifted to hos­pi­tal. He’d frac­tured bones in his back, but would re­turn later in the year. For now, he was out.

Af­ter a win by over four min­utes on the pre­vi­ous round, a sim­i­lar feat was achieved by Evans and Davies as Ky­tole­hto suf­fered gear­box fail­ure. Serge Jor­dan (Me­gane) and Ta­pio Laukka­nen (VW Golf) took wheels off their cars and Head didn’t start, mean­ing Evans had a free run. How­ever, as he ex­plains, there’s no such thing as an easy run in an F2 car. They were no­to­ri­ously tail happy de­spite be­ing pow­ered from the front.

“They were a bloody hand­ful,” says Evans with a chuckle. “Mine had as much steer­ing in the back as it did in the front, like a four-wheel steer. They kept you on your toes and kept you hon­est.”

Next up was the Scot­tish Rally, and for the se­cond year in a row Ky­tole­hto was the man to beat in F2. A long bat­tle with Evans en­sued but some tyre se­lec­tion is­sues, a po­ten­tially faulty al­ter­na­tor and a gear­box that was changed in 15 min­utes by the GSE boys at ser­vice meant Evans missed out. But af­ter all that, he was close.

“Jarmo was a cool boy, he could pedal,” says Evans. “I think he had been in the top five in a world rally be­fore 1996. The Finns are al­ways strong and noth­ing phases them. I thought we would be stronger on the as­phalt as they wouldn’t be quite as fa­mil­iar with the rounds but, in the forests, there’s no stop­ping them. They were as strong as any­one.”

It turned out that Evans’ sus­pected su­pe­ri­or­ity on Tar­mac was less im­por­tant, as Ky­tole­hto was away in the world cham­pi­onship for the next round, the Ul­ster Rally. In­ter­est­ingly, Group N com­peti­tor and fu­ture world rally win­ner Harri Ro­van­pera took the car for the rally.

An over­all podium was enough for Evans and Davies to seal the ti­tle in what had to be one of their eas­i­est years of ral­ly­ing. They had bet­ter bat­tles in other sea­sons, but it all came to­gether in 1996.

“We prob­a­bly had big dices and bet­ter re­sults in other years,” ex­plains Davies. “But it all came to­gether that year. I think we re­ally boxed clever, head down and didn’t have too many prob­lems. Gor­don Spooner did a great job keep­ing our F2s re­li­able.”

Evans – af­ter many, many years – fi­nally had a de­served BRC ti­tle.

“It’s the first time I won some­thing ma­jor and you al­ways trea­sure those mo­ments and es­pe­cially when there was de­cent com­pe­ti­tion,” he says. “You feel like you’ve beaten some spe­cial guys in spe­cial cars.

“They say about luck. You have to cre­ate your own, but it cer­tainly fol­lowed us that year. When luck isn’t quite with you, you can have a small mo­ment and it takes a wheel off. Things like that hap­pen.”

Af­ter the Ul­ster there was still one round to go, and the crew cam­paigned a de­vel­op­ment Maxi en­gine in the RS2000.

It proved very fast, as they led Ar­min Sch­warz in a WRC Toy­ota Celica be­fore the Ford blew up. They nearly had the 1997 ti­tle won too, but the new Es­cort Maxi was a hand­ful and came down awk­wardly over a crest on the ti­tle de­cider – the Manx.

The crew crashed out of the cham­pi­onship lead, leav­ing Hig­gins to win the ti­tle in his Nis­san. But no mat­ter what Gwyn­daf re­mem­bers the most, he will al­ways have that 1996 tri­umph to re­flect on. ■

Ky­tole­hto: chal­lenger

Davies (l) and Evans worked hard out­side of the car to seal 1996 ti­tle en­gine be­fore it blew up Rally with new de­vel­op­ment Maxi Evans and Davies led the Manx

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