What Evans must do to remain in WRC title fight

Toyota's standard bearer should take a leaf out of Neuville's book, reckons DirtFish head of media David Evans


If Elfyn Evans won the lottery on Saturday night, he’s probably lost the ticket.

Nothing went right for Toyota’s Welshman in Portugal last week. There was the missing set-up solution, pacenotes from the phone, a puncture and finally a damaged radiator on the penultimate stage to cap off a pointless Sunday.

The numbers make for fairly grim reading with a six-point deficit to championship leader Thierry Neuville mushrooming to 24 ahead of round six in Sardinia later this month.

For three out of four years, Evans was first or second in Portugal. He looked to have mastered Matosinhos. He’d got it figured. Then he sent it to the trees at some speed last year and, let’s face it, had something of a nightmare this time around.

Evans knows this year offers a gilt-edged opportunity to become a world champion. He also knows better than anybody else that he’s not going to do it with weekends like the last one.

It wasn’t good enough.

It is, however, easy to get carried away here. It was one bad event. Granted, Evans is still waiting for his season to truly catch, but the good news is that he’s keeping himself in the ballpark.

Winning championships isn’t necessarily about winning rallies, it can be as much about containing the fallout when your week goes south. In that respect, studying Neuville’s weekend wouldn’t be a bad idea. Since departing Zagreb last month, the Belgian would have been keeping half an eye on the weather for the westernmost European round of the world championship in the hope of rain coming to save him. When it didn’t, he did what he could on Friday and relied on the fact that cars would hit trouble across the first two days – opening the opportunity for 12 points on Sunday.

It was the same in Kenya; you almost had to watch the Hyundai from behind your hands. There was nothing left in that car on the Safari. Ditto Portugal as he drove brilliantly to lift all but one of the Sunday points. Flying east after the rally, even Neuville must have wondered how on earth his championship lead was four times bigger than when he landed.

Evans needs to find a similar way to silver-line the WRC’s cloudier days.


Hyundai rival Thierry Neuville has perfected the art of maximizing his weekend points haul

Can Evans still be champion? I believe he can. He needs a solid result in Italy three weeks from now, but then he needs to be banging out the results when it comes to this summer’s festival of Polish-Latvian-Finnish speed.

Crucially, Portugal needs to be put to bed quickly for Evans. Don’t let it fester. Forget it. Look forwards. Of course he’ll do all of that, he’s an elite athlete with the mental and psychological approach to match. He’s also Toyota’s standard bearer this season. It’s on his shoulders that the Japanese car giant’s hopes sit to further a run of drivers’ titles unbeaten since 2018.

Evans has the speed to be world champion. We saw it in 2020. And 2021. His task now is to, somehow, find the sweet spot he had in the old car with the current chassis.

By his own admission, he’s fussy in what he wants from the car. Last year we saw him and the team widening their respective operating windows. Sunday was better, when Evans felt the feeling was coming and bringing confidence from the car. Then the stone sliced the radiator, sent the engine temperature sky high and left him finishing the stage in EV mode.

It was one of those weekends for the Welshman.