Despite losing out to Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä in a straight fight for victory at last weekend’s Rally Portugal, Elfyn Evans views the result as a positive one given his wretched run of form so far in 2022.
Evans began the World Rally Championship season as many pundits’ favorite to lift the title given he’d finished second to Sébastien Ogier in 2020 and ’21, and Ogier was scaling back his rallying program in 2022.
But prior to Portugal it just hadn’t quite happened for Evans in a GR Yaris Rally1.
He’d shown great speed – running third and set to take the lead of the Monte Carlo Rally before running wide and beaching himself at the side of the road, and running second on Rally Sweden one month later as well.
But Evans smacked a snowbank when chasing down Rovanperä and wrecked his chance of scoring points yet alone a podium – a situation that became more grave when the hybrid unit in the back of his Toyota became unsafe to operate.
It left Evans with just four points heading to Croatia and a first stage puncture on round three put him on the back foot for the entire weekend. He eventually salvaged fifth, but he still found himself down in ninth in the standings.
It’s in this context that a Portuguese podium – Evans’ first top-three finish since November 2021 – seems like a mega result, even if it could’ve been slightly more.
“It’s clear to see that Kalle was very very strong and he deserved to win,” Evans told DirtFish.
“But from our side you know, it’s still I would say a positive [weekend].
“It’s been a very difficult start to the year [so] I think we needed this strong result to at least build from.
“There’s plenty of areas I could see that we can improve on, so it’s positive.
“It was important to finish, I think,” Evans added.
“I mean, of course we wanted to win. And we tried to win to a point, but I don’t think I was at the ultimate level of confidence, that last few percent that you need to deliver that pace.
“So I knew when coming to the end of the stages it wasn’t in the same place as it was when we won last year. So obviously, Kalle delivered that and deserved to win.”
Evans took the lead of the rally on Friday morning and, aside from dropping 0.5 seconds behind Sébastien Loeb’s M-Sport Ford Puma after SS4, held it until the penultimate stage of Saturday.
Evans felt starting one car and therefore four minutes behind his rival Rovanperä on the second pass of Amarante was a disadvantage as the rain began to pour, but he was also quick to accept that he just didn’t do as good a job as his team-mate.
“I don’t know exactly what the difference was in conditions but it seemed pretty bad for us to be honest,” he said.
“It’s difficult to really judge, for sure Kalle went really well also so it’s a difficult one to judge how much of it was conditions [and] how much was it was confidence in those conditions.
“I had a few patches where I had no grip at all near the start of the stage and the car just sort of took off, so then when you have that very changeable grip you’re sort of anticipating that to come at another point you know.
“It was perhaps not quite taking enough risks but it was difficult in those changeable conditions.”
Although Evans was then ultimately unable to reel Rovanperä in on the rally, he’s not giving up hope of doing so in the championship – despite the difference between the two Toyotas growing to a whopping 70 points after Portugal.
“He’s had a pretty good start to the year it’s very fair to say and it’s gonna be hard to catch, but of course we’re not giving up,” Evans vowed.
“There’s a lot that can still happen and there’s a lot of running to do.
“It’s still a long year [so] it’s not over yet.”