Not winning last month’s Monte Carlo Rally was Elfyn Evans’ biggest step yet towards winning the World Rally Championship. Discuss.
Evans won’t agree. In fact, he’ll likely be entirely bemused and not a bit miffed by such a suggestion. Hear me out. I’ll discuss it.
We all know Toyota’s plan for this year centres on a seventh world title for a Frenchman called Sébastien. Evans will talk – and should talk – about Toyota team principal Tommi Mäkinen favouring parity among his pilots, but the simple and statistically backed fact is that Ogier offers the best chance of season-long success.
Getting in the way of that could make life complicated for Evans.
And Ogier would make his life complicated. Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with Sébastien going to the team and asking for favorable treatment. He’s got no interest in that. None. It’s not his style. As he’s said, time and again, he prefers to master his own destiny.
What this is about is, essentially, keeping Ogier on side this season. Playing the long game.
Ogier has been clear this will be his last year in the WRC and Evans needs to keep that in mind. While he landed the Yaris WRC entirely on merit, Ogier was always in favour of working with his former M-Sport team-mate from 2017/18.
Ordinarily, I would never advocate such a policy, but just for this year it might be worth not poking the tiger.
We saw what happened when Jari-Matti Latvala took Ogier on at Volkswagen. Latvala’s a similarly mild-mannered character to Evans, but he took Sébastien on and was, let’s face it, destroyed. By the time J-ML stepped out of a Polo R WRC for the final time at the end of 2016, he didn’t know which way to turn.
He’d fallen into that terrible trap of chasing his team-mate’s set-up by compromising his own driving style. Predictably, it didn’t work.
I’m not suggesting Evans will make that mistake – or that the Yaris WRC will ask that of him.
Evans will win this year and when he has sight of the goal, he needs to smash it home. But the peripheral stuff, the stuff that every driver does because they know it will needle, that’s the stuff to be avoided.
Evans has a genuine chance to be world champion this season, but he’s got an even better chance to do it as a Toyota team leader in 2021.
Yeah, neither was I.
But I was intrigued. So I put those points to TGR technical director Tom Fowler.
Before he answered, Fowler made it quite clear, the following was entirely his own opinion rather than any defined sporting policy from Puuppola.
“Elfyn is a clear manufacturer-benefit driver,” said Fowler. “Look at his season from 2019 – he was still running fourth even after he’d missed at least one or two rallies when he unfortunately hurt himself in Estonia. He got that fourth place by always been around fourth, plus or minus on all the rallies.”
For a way to the WRC’s top table of championship challengers, Fowler said Evans could do worse than follow a fellow former M-Sport driver.
He added: “Elfyn maybe needs to look back at the history of Mikko Hirvonen and follow that path; you have a few different paths get to that championship contender status and Mikko was very much a support driver for a long time.
“He was very loyal to Ford and to Marcus [Grönholm] and he did the best he could for Marcus and Ford to secure championships. It was frustrating for him at times, but he knew that was his job and he knew the ultimate goal [of a world title shot] was there.
“It’s important Elfyn sees that as his target: to come into the team and drive very, very consistently, to score the points and deliver the results he’s asked for. And let the championship be fought out by those guys who are – whether it’s written down or not written down – the clear drivers’ title contenders.
“In the future, you never know what’s going to happen, drivers retire and you get this change of the guard. If he’s built up the confidence and time in the car, there’s no reason why he can’t step up to that job of a team leader.
“But, and I reiterate this is my opinion, he needs to deliver the other job first.”
Evans has always been among the brighter boys in class, now’s his chance to be the brightest.