After another World Rally Championship weekend where he lost significant points to runaway championship leader Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans could be excused for feeling somewhat demoralized.
Yet the Toyota driver is refusing to worry about the negatives, safe in the knowledge that his championship position of ninth does at least bring him a “flip positive” for the upcoming rallies.
Croatia Rally was touted as an event Evans simply had to win if he was serious about challenging for this year’s drivers’ title. After incidents on both the Monte Carlo Rally and Rally Sweden, the 2020 and ’21 championship runner-up had already used up his allotted lifelines.
But Croatia got off to the worst possible start for Evans when he punctured on SS1, and another flat later on the first day deflated any of his chances of fighting for a top result.
The end result was a muted fifth place and third on the powerstage that did get his season up and running but didn’t make the impact many expected and he most likely needed.
“It’s always difficult when you’re not in the true fight, if you know what I mean, to really commit,” Evans told DirtFish.
“You never quite drive exactly the same. It’s been tough, there’s no doubt about that.”
The net result is that Evans’ championship situation still looks pretty desperate. Now trailing his team-mate Rovanperä by 59 points means that he is already effectively two maximum scores down on the championship lead after just three rounds of the season.
And to put things even more into perspective, both Sébastien Loeb and Ogier – who have only done one rally so far this year – are ahead of him in the standings.
But Croatia was at least a step forward. As Evans admitted, it’s “certainly better than finishing with zero again”.
“It’s been a difficult three rallies, there’s no hiding behind anything there,” he added. “It’s quite clear it’s not what we want.
“The flip positive to that is now that the road position is good heading into four gravel rallies, and of course now we have to try to relax and try to make the most of that.”
Portugal, Italy, Kenya, Estonia and also Finland are those next rallies and they will truly make or break Evans’ season.
While he will have no excuses not to perform with a strong road position on the first day – provided it doesn’t rain – Rovanperä will be hampered by sweeping the loose gravel away; something he has never done on the opening day of a WRC event before.
“Of course, it’s going to be tough,” Rovanperä told DirtFish.
“I don’t have so much experience being the first car on gravel, so that’s something we need to learn and try to be clever to still bring good points.”
These are of course just words – Rovanperä said similar things about Croatia and ultimately turned in a maximum 30-point score. But it’s certainly true that Evans has more factors in his favor for the next string of rallies than his team-mate.
Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala has backed Evans to “be good in Portugal” considering his road position and the fact he won the rally last year. He also believes Evans will be more at ease next time out now that he’s ridded the pressure to register any sort of meaningful points on the board.
Evans agreed with his boss’s outlook “to a point” but is aware past success in Portugal with a different kind of car ultimately counts for nothing.
“We fought for gravel rally podiums and wins from much earlier on the road last year,” Evans said.
“Of course now things are different, we’ve got to find our feet with the [Rally1] car on gravel for the first time, also.
“So it’s a case of adapting, let’s see.”