“Elfyn showed new character in Monte times”
Elfyn Evans badly wanted to tell me where to go. After the Friday morning he’d had, I was pretty near the top of the list of folk he was keen not to talk to. I persevered. I wanted to find out where those five minutes had gone. Notebook out of my pocket, I found a clean page and made to ask the first question.
“Seriously?” said Evans. “Why don’t we talk about my new overalls? How about that…”
So we did. And then we talked about what was going on, a chunk of which was off the record. It’s fair to say the Welshman was struggling to get much traction from his studded winter tyre on ice.
He’d lost two minutes apiece on the first two Friday stages. Understandably, his mood wasn’t the best.
But his state of mind couldn’t have been better. Or more different to where it would have been two years ago.
Two years ago, Evans would have been on the floor. Finished. He’d have retreated into himself and had little to offer for the rest of the rally.
The last year has changed Elfyn. This time, he bounced back and he bounced higher than ever before. He was unbelievably quick. With more dry asphalt and less ice to work with, his Ford Focus WRC was sensationally quick on Saturday.
In the middle of a white-hot battle for the lead on one of the most challenging Monte Carlo Rallies in history, Evans was second fastest on Saturday’s accumulated five stages. Second fastest to Sebastien Ogier… by two-tenths of a second. The next nearest man to the two Fiestas was their M-sport team-mate Ott Tanak, and he was 46.6 seconds behind Evans and his returning co-driver Dan Barritt.
The crowning glory for Evans, DMACK, and the Fiesta was SS13 – the first completely dry stage of the season. A stage where everybody was on the same, soft compound.
The drivers knew this was the place to put a marker down. Was this behind Neuville’s shunt? Did he get greedy? Ask him and he’ll deny it, but everybody knew the score.
And Evans was quickest again, 1.7s up on Ogier. The good news for the championship is that both the Citroen and the Toyota were in the ballpark here as well.
What about Evans’ British colleague Kris Meeke. Should we be concerned? Not a bit. He had a bad day at the office.
Should we be concerned about the Citroen? Hmm… the jury has to stay out on that one until Sweden. It would be fair to say Versailles’ offering was the least impressive of the new cars. As one fellow competitor rather unkindly put it: “Looks like they just brought last year’s touring car.”
The C3 was running lower than anything else and consequently looked more nervous than anything else.
We’ll know more after Sweden and even more after Mexico. Let’s reserve judgement. Apart from on this new era of the WRC: I can tell you right now, that’s an absolute winner.