Who remembers Rally Turkey 2020? Elfyn Evans isn’t the reflective type, but it’s highly likely he can recall that feeling.
The feeling of all of his World Rally Championship rivals running into strife on the first stage of the final morning.
Starting the final leg fourth and a minute off the lead, Evans emerged from SS9 46.9 seconds to the good as Sébastien Loeb and Thierry Neuville both punctured and Sébastien Ogier, Evans’ closest title rival, ran into engine trouble.
Evans’ victory that weekend ultimately propelled him into a lead he would nearly protect, but for that slippery corner in the mountains north of Monza.
Fast forward the clock nearly three years, and there’s a sense of déjà vu. Evans hasn’t vaulted into the lead of the championship, but that 30-point swing on last month’s Rally Finland has tightened it right up and suddenly thrown him right back into play.
That feeling of sensing an opportunity is exactly the same.
Instead of trailing team-mate Kalle Rovanperä by 55 points, Evans is now just 25 points down. With four rounds left to score on, the championship is now “more on again”, as Evans put it, as the WRC prepares to restart in Greece next week following its summer break.
“There’s an opportunity,” Evans told DirtFish.
“Of course we go to every rally and [aim to] do the best we can, like always. I mean it’s going to be a tough ask to win Greece from second on the road if it’s a dry rally, but we’re competing against those around us and we have to focus on doing the best job possible.
“It’s true it’s still quite a big gap to Kalle in front, and we know he’s on great form, but of course we’re here to try and challenge for the championship – that’s naturally our aim – and of course now there’s a lot more light at the end of the tunnel than there was when we were heading in here [to Finland].
“It’s more realistic now to try and fight for it, and let’s see what’s possible.”
Rovanperä is most likely unperturbed, but Evans has been a far more convincing threat in 2023 than he was last year and is within striking distance should the world champion falter.
But perhaps most crucially, Evans is in full control of his own destiny. If he wins every single rally and powerstage from here until the end of the season, he will be world champion.
The same can’t be said for Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. He’d need to be within 32 points of Rovanperä for that to be the case, and he currently trails by 36.
The Hyundai driver is by no means out of it though – particularly as he can benefit from support from his team-mates while Rovanperä and Evans are fighting in an ‘every man for himself’ scenario within Toyota.
Neuville however concedes it will be a “difficult mission” to wrest the title from Rovanperä.
“On the couple of events before [Estonia and Finland] we gave a couple of points away, so somehow we are a bit far off, we could be much closer,” he said. “But it is what it is.
“We look forward to the upcoming events – they are a couple of strong events for us. We remember Greece we did a 1-2-3 last year, Japan being on the top step as well and generally Tarmac events I should have a good pace.
“So looking forward to it for sure, however going to catch 36 points [against] Kalle I wouldn’t say is mission impossible but it’s a difficult mission that’s for sure.”