Evans has the chance that Hirvonen never got

Hirvonen and Evans have both looked title favorites before ultimately being usurped. But Elfyn has a second chance

Rally Finland, Jyvaskyla 31 07 – 01 08 2013

Realistically, did anybody ever stand a chance versus the Sébastien Loeb/Citroën juggernaut?

Even when the brand helped foster rallying’s next superstar, Sébastien Ogier, the younger of the two Sébs famously wasn’t afforded an equal chance to fight. At least that’s what he’d tell you.

And the challenge never fully materialized from the blue side of the service park. Marcus Grönholm came within a whisker of the 2007 crown before calling time on his World Rally Championship career, and Mikko Hirvonen was one loose hood pin away from pulling off the unthinkable.

As it was, Loeb went unbeaten for nine straight seasons. The only thing that guaranteed a changing of the guard was the Alsatian’s decision to step away from full-time rallying action.

The obvious successor? Well it had to be Hirvonen, didn’t it?

Sure, Ogier had Loeb and Citroën management stressed in 2011 but Hirvonen had replaced the VW-bound Frenchman so was in the right place – driving the make of car that won every single drivers’ title since 2004. And he’d been second FOUR times to Loeb, so with his great rival out of the way the title was the Finn’s for the taking.


Rally Italia Sardegna, Olbia 20-22 06 2013


Ogier and Volkswagen happened. Nine wins from 13 earned Ogier a comfortable title win while Hirvonen failed to register a single victory on the board, coming home fourth in the 2013 championship.

Sound familiar?

It does to me, at least.

When Ogier mimicked his namesake Loeb and reduced his rallying commitment for 2022, like Hirvonen nine years before there was one obvious successor to the throne.

Elfyn Evans

Elfyn Evans had been second to Ogier for either of the previous two seasons, and was driving the Toyota that had won each of the past three drivers’ titles. With Ogier stepping aside, Evans was painted as the obvious title favorite. But instead, team-mate Kalle Rovanperä stormed through and took the spoils.

Evans? You guessed it. He failed to register a single victory on the board, coming home fourth in the championship.

It was a fascinating repetition of history, but there’s one crucial difference. Because Evans now has a chance that Hirvonen never got.

With Ogier moving aside and now Rovanperä (albeit for just one year) doing the same, Evans has a second opportunity to make amends and seal a title that, on paper, looks to be his. The question is, can he do it?


There’s certainly a lot more stacked in his favor than in 2022, or indeed for Hirvonen in 2013.

Evans now knows his machine, having spent two years in the Rally1 car and adjusted his driving style to suit. There’s no curveball to contend with (like the introduction of new regulations, or in Hirvonen’s case the arrival of a new manufacturer) and – potentially contrary to popular belief – Evans is in the form of his career just now.

Three wins in a year and 216 championship points beats two wins and 207 points from two years ago.

Then there’s the stability factor. Yes, Thierry Neuville couldn’t be more settled at Hyundai having spent the past decade there, but it’s a team that’s still fully figuring out its own jigsaw puzzle. Ott Tänak’s arrival creates a challenge both for Tänak himself in readapting to the i20, and to the team in managing its two A-list drivers.

There are no such qualms at Toyota. The equilibrium has always been maintained with no driver receiving any preferential treatment or team orders to boost their championship bids.

But the situation couldn’t be clearer for Evans who may need to accept losing rallies to his team-mates Rovanperä and Ogier, but won’t face any internal opposition for the title.

The flip side to that is never before has there been more pressure on the Welshman to deliver. Toyota has nobody else to realistically rely on (unless Takamoto Katsuta produces a huge upswing in consistent form) in the drivers’ title race, so all hopes will be pinned on him.

But Evans should have the mental fortitude to deal with that. After all, there’s nobody who wants this more than him – or has waited his turn more patiently for such a door to open.

Evans is already at the front of the queue; his job next year is just to make sure he doesn’t let Neuville or Tänak barge him out the way like Rovanperä did two years before.