It’s been a while since Elfyn Evans led the World Rally Championship.
But leading the championship nine rallies from home unfortunately counts for very little. Especially when it lumbers you with the responsibility of sweeping the road on a gravel rally – a role Evans will fulfill on this week’s Rally Portugal.
Evans may have missed topping the table, but he won’t have missed that handicap due to the points leader being absent.
And this year it’s particularly painful given just 11 points split the top five drivers, and only one point separates first to third.
So bizarrely, leading the championship just now isn’t really a positive when everybody is so close together.
“Obviously the points gaps are all very, very tight between the top five I believe so I’ve landed a bit with the short straw there I think, for a few points advantage,” Evans said.
“But at the end of the day it’s a run of seven gravel rallies and I’m sure the advantage is going to swing in all directions for a few rallies still.
“Naturally if it is dry as expected it’s going to be difficult in Portugal starting early on the road but of course we will be doing our best as usual.”
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala has backed his driver, who won in Portugal two years ago, to do just that.
Latvala, the most experienced driver in WRC history, reckons Evans will feel a lift from last month’s win in Croatia – his first WRC victory in 18 months and what put him level on points with championship-leading team-mate Sébastien Ogier.
“You could see the very end of the [final] stage [in Croatia],” Latvala told DirtFish.
“You could see his shoulders. They got quite relaxed and it was difficult to really celebrate the victory. But the way his body language was telling that inside he was really delighted, relaxed and that kind of confidence was coming back.
“I could see that confidence coming back on Friday evening when he was smiling. That smile we haven’t seen for a while.
“And I know myself that, from the past, when you had a difficult period and then when you do well and you win, of course it’s boosting your self-confidence, giving you your confidence back: ‘OK, I’m good enough, I have still the chances to fight for the title’.
“For sure this will give him, let’s say, more inspiration and more confidence.”