Toyota will be relying on Elfyn Evans to spearhead its Croatia Rally assault this weekend, according to team principal Jari-Matti Latvala.
Evans has had a torrid start to his World Rally Championship campaign, crashing on the Monte Carlo Rally then also retiring from Rally Sweden, while his team-mate Kalle Rovanperä grabbed his first victory of the season last time out to head into Croatia at the top of the driver’s standings.
But despite the fact that Evans is currently out of any meaningful title battle, Latvala believes the team will be relying on him to win the rally due to his prior experience tackling the Croatian stages, after Rovanperä crashed out on the opening stage last year.
“I’ve been speaking with the drivers and honestly their feedback from them is that they are very happy with the car, so they really felt good with the car and confident,” Latvala said to select members of the media, including DirtFish. “This gives me a good feeling, good indication for the event.
“But then the difficult part is that Esapekka Lappi didn’t do this event last year and then Kalle [Rovanperä] did only five kilometers. So all our experience is now on Elfyn’s shoulder.
“Of course, Taka [Katsuta] did this event last year and finished sixth, so it was quite good, but 50% of our drivers have not done this event really.
“Last year we were one and two and this year it will be a lot more difficult. If we have two cars in the top three then it would be absolutely perfect. But I know it’s gonna be quite tough.”
From the outside, in his current form, Rovanperä would be the natural driver to back for the rally win, but Latvala thinks that’s unlikely as the championship leader is now having to ensure he consistently brings home points to maintain his title challenge.
“I really hope Elfyn now will be in the speed to really fight for the victory, and with Kalle, we probably need to think about a little bit the championship,” said Latvala.
“I know that Kalle, he wants a little bit to see how it starts and how is the feeling, and then he can improve. But Kalle and EP [Esapekka Lappi] are in the position to not necessarily attack maximum for the victory.”
But while Evans no doubt has more experience of the Croatian stages, he pointed out that team-mate Rovanperä isn’t going into the event with a complete clean sheet of paper.
“Obviously Kalle was here doing the rally last year. He was here for the whole recce, so he had a full set of pacenotes.” said Evans.
“And then, of course with WRC+, then you know all the onboards are there for everyone to see and do their homework.
“So, I think we should be in a pretty ok position really. Of course for EP it is going to be a lot more difficult writing all new pace notes, but you know, I’m sure he’ll still do a good job.”