How Evans won the ‘undriveable’ rally

Rally Japan delivered a sting in the tail of 2023. Elfyn Evans took the sting out of the finale and won. Here's how...


Had it not been for Thursday night’s dash around the Toyota City stadium, Elfyn Evans would have scored a start-to-finish win in some of the most complicated conditions imaginable at Rally Japan.

Even on Sunday, winner of the previous round – the Central European Rally – Thierry Neuville couldn’t wait for the day to be done. Undriveable seemed to be one of the words of the event, through Friday’s crazy rain, Saturday’s snow and Sunday’s mud.

Yet Toyota stars Evans and co-driver Scott Martin drove through it all. And drove through it all faster than anybody.

Here’s how, starting with those extraordinary conditions on Friday morning.

Evans Japan 2

“I’ve no idea about the thought process to get through those conditions,” Evans told DirtFish. “There’s no thought at that time, it’s all instinct. You have to try and find your way early and try and get a feeling – and then you just have to trust that feeling. You have to trust the notes and trust the gravel notes and go with it.

“I was a bit surprised at the lead we had coming out of those stages, but you never know in those conditions. When you come to the finish [of the stage] you can be 30 seconds ahead or you can be 30 behind and both are just as believable.

“When we came across the line, if Scott told me somebody was half a minute quicker, in them conditions, you would just say: “OK, we struggled, but I can believe that.”

And once ahead, managing a near-two-minute lead from Saturday morning was almost as challenging for the Welshman.

There’s no thought at that time, it’s all instinct. Elfyn Evans

“It was tough from that side,” he added. “The stages really weren’t easy. OK the pace wasn’t the ultimate pace from Saturday morning onwards, when we had such a big lead. You can manage that lead a little bit, which, of course, reduces your chances of a mistake – but it’s still not easy to go on that basis.”

Not easy, but they did it. They won and erased the misery of what might have been when they missed that win 12 months ago.

Evans smiled: “Last year was a disappointment to be honest. Having fought for the rally win all the way up to Saturday night and to take the first stage on Sunday morning and then make a mistake and lose it… that was tough. And then we had the disaster of the tire and slipped off the podium completely!

“I guess it was a right send-off to 2022 in a way. It’s very nice to put it right this time.”

Second in the championship was already confirmed for Evans, but his third win of the season narrowed the gap to team-mate Kalle Rovanperä to 44 points.