On any other weekend, second place on the rally and on the powerstage would be seen as a strong result for Elfyn Evans.
But having more than halved Kalle Rovanperä’s World Rally Championship lead with a maximum points haul on the previous rally in Finland, realistically Evans needed to beat Rovanperä in Greece to really apply pressure to his Toyota team-mate.
And unfortunately for Evans, the one driver who beat him to the top step of the podium and the fastest time on the powerstage was the one driver he couldn’t allow to do so: Rovanperä.
But perhaps we’re looking at that all wrong. Maybe Evans’ 22-point haul is nothing but an extreme positive, given at one point of the rally it looked as if Evans would be scoring no points at all.
Without some super-quick thinking from the driver, and the assistance of his hybrid unit, Evans’ Acropolis Rally Greece would’ve been over on Saturday morning. And we mean over. With engine temperatures soaring, there’s no way the #33 GR Yaris Rally1 would’ve returned on Sunday had Evans’ natural instinct not taken over.
Heading onto the final stage of the morning, Eleftherochori, the Welshman was lying a solid fourth behind his two team-mates and Thierry Neuville’s rally-leading Hyundai.
But midway through the stage, an alarm flashed on his dashboard and Evans immediately knew he was in trouble.
Toyota technical director Tom Fowler takes up the story.
“It was a little bit of a strange one in many ways,” Fowler told DirtFish.
“The actual issue which he had was a leaking radiator, so water was coming from the radiator [and raising temperatures].
“What we found so far is [there is] nothing really [to suggest] Elfyn is at fault in terms of an impact, but we need to take into account I would say probably the hashtag of this weekend has been ‘impact’ because these cars are bouncing off stuff everywhere.
“It’s Acropolis, that’s what Acropolis is like, but we’ve seen an improvement in Acropolis recently that it’s not been maybe the challenge it was in the past. But I think that challenge has come back because of this rain.
“There’s so many more loose rocks, so much less earth around the rocks, that everything is just a few centimeters taller because its surroundings have disappeared. So clearly it’s one of the hardest Acropolises we’ve had in recent times, and, yeah, the car is touching rocks everywhere.
“I think Elfyn called it a rock garden which is a bit of a mountain-biking term for downhill rock garden, so it’s a situation where you go into a load of rocks and you have no choice but to drive over them and you have to hope that they fall kindly for you in terms of where you touch them.
“So back to the issue – one of those rocks has damaged the front bumper quite early in the stage, and it looks like another rock later in the stage has come to exactly the same place and then the subsequent impact has damaged the radiator.
“So we don’t like to use the word ‘luck’ because we will of course investigate to see what we can do to make that better. But the protection level that we have is something that we’re really happy with before the rally, happy to go to any of the roughest rallies in the spec we have now.
“But nothing’s bomb-proof.”
You have a rough idea what's going on and you have to use your judgment then at that pointElfyn Evans
From the human side, Evans displayed a mechanical awareness that perhaps few of his rivals would’ve done in an escalating scenario of crisis.
Recognizing his engine was in danger of expiring, Evans realized he was close enough to the end of the stage that he could turn his engine off and make the stop control on electric power only.
“I think I carried the issues for three or four kilometers before I decided to turn off the engine,” Evans continued. “And I was monitoring the situation, let’s say.
“You have a rough idea what’s going on with some figures that we get on the dash, and you have to use your judgment then at that point.”
Compact Dynamics can come in for a lot of stick around the service park – and even at Toyota last weekend there was an issue with Sébastien Ogier’s car that kickstarted the whirlwind of problems he experienced as Saturday drew to a close – but there’s no doubt that the hybrid unit saved Evans’ rally in Greece.
“Yeah, in this case, yes,” he agreed.
And by extension, it saved his championship bid too because a 33-point deficit is a lot healthier than a 55-point disadvantage with three rallies left to go.
Evans’ old boss, M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson, was also quick to point out that Evans’ sense to turn the engine off was exemplary, and Fowler couldn’t disagree.
“There was a combination of factors there,” he said. “The system in the car that detects this kind of leak activated really effectively, so him and Scott [Martin, co-driver] were given the information really early that effectively the car has informed them their radiator is leaking.
“OK, there’s a number of other options as to what this fault could be but effectively they will know that this is likely what’s happened, and they are well trained to understand what that means in terms of a response. And there’s a sequence of things which they can do, and the car will do itself.
“Probably the most important one in the end was Elfyn’s decision to stop the engine and use the hybrid, as you mentioned. So he used the EV to get to the end of the stage which certainly gave him some space to keep the engine temperature down, which was really important not only for his rally but for the season in terms of costs.
“We are restricted to two engines for the year for a region, so to expire an engine for such a simple radiator issue is obviously not financially a great option.”
Evans was pragmatic about his end result. On the one hand it was a massive save; on the other, Greece was a bit of a blow.
“It’s inevitably bittersweet,” he told DirtFish. “When you look at the points situation, it’s not great from that side. But, in all honesty, we could have been coming away with nothing.
“Yesterday lunchtime it was looking pretty grim in that last stage before lunch even to get the car out of there. On one hand, I’m sort of counting my lucky stars if you know what I mean, that we got the car out.
“But I think what happened in the first place was probably quite unlucky. We don’t still know really what’s caused it.
“There wasn’t any major sort of drama or impact to cause that. One of those things, and all things considered, we have to be happy with the points we got.”