Elfyn Evans had no time for tactics or predictions as he approached Rally Turkey. Sitting nine points behind World Rally Championship leader Sebastien Ogier, Evans was keen to avoid any unnecessary championship chat.
Instead, the Welshman let his driving do the talking.
Despite only setting one fastest stage time, Evans and co-driver Scott Martin arrived at the end of Sunday’s final Marmaris stage with a 35-second advantage over Theirry Neuville.
Evans and Martin quietly went about their business throughout the first half of Rally Turkey. The pair controlled a podium position until their Toyota’s tyres screamed no more in the heat of Saturday afternoon’s loop of stages.
The 32 kilometres of Yesilbelde was destroying everybody’s tyres and with two stages left in the loop it was a case of who could manage them best.
Evans’ task was made even harder as he was running a damaged tyre. A 28-second time-loss on Saturday’s final stage pushed him off the podium and a minute behind rally-leader Neuville.
A disappointing end to the day, a podium was out of reach, but the Anglo-Welsh pairing was to be rewarded for their efforts on Sunday.
Turkey’s tough terrain had bitten but they had made sure it didn’t bite too hard. Little did they know Turkey’s punch was waiting for the WRC crews as the Mediterranean sun rose the following morning.
As world rallying’s elite headed out of Sunday morning’s service it looked as though Neuville had the rally in his hands. Sure, there was definitely a risk of a puncture but the odds were in the Belgian’s favour. His battle with Ogier on Saturday had relaxed when the Frenchman hit electronic trouble on Yesilbelde.
Then Cetibeli hit. It hit hard.
Sunday’s 38-kilometre opener wreaked havoc on the World Rally Cars.
Pierre-Louis Loubet, stopped. Teemu Suninen, stopped.
Esapekka Lappi, puncture. Kalle Rovanpera, puncture.
Then came the leaders. Could they survive the drama?
Ogier couldn’t, Neuville couldn’t, even Sebastien Loeb had to crawl through the final section with a destroyed tyre.
Somehow, amidst all of the chaos, Evans kept his nose clean. Understated as ever Evans arrived at the stop-line with a soon-to-be confirmed 46-second rally lead.
“It’s very difficult in there so we just tried to do our best.”
From fourth to first. A minute behind to 40 seconds in front. What a turn of events.
But it wasn’t over yet, three more tests remained and of course one more pass of the dreaded Cetibeli.
With the pressure on, Evans and Martin had one job on hand – stay on a clean line. Easier said than done with giant rocks littering Turkey’s gravel roads.
Hearts were in mouths as Evans feared the worst early into the second pass of Cetibeli, the rally’s penultimate stage.
“I’m sure we’ve got a rear puncture.”
Surely not, it couldn’t be. It wasn’t.
Disaster avoided, they nailed the final stages to take a 35-second victory over Neuville.
Toyota’s win with Evans was overshadowed by Ogier’s demise on Cetibeli. Ogier’s puncture on the first pass didn’t actually cost him any positions but an engine failure on the second run through the formidable stage meant he left Turkey with no points at all.
Evans expressed his disappointment to see his team-mate stopped at the side of the road but Ogier’s misfortune has given Evans an 18-point margin at the top of the WRC standings.
With two rounds left, the championship is now in his hands. When questioned in Rally Turkey’s post-event press conference, Evans remained as cool as ever.
“I haven’t given it [the championship] too much thought. Who knows what will happen between now and the end of the season.
“We know that, ultimately, one retirement and it is flipped on its head again. We have to keep our heads down for the next rallies.”
It’s easy to forget what Evans has overcome in the past month.
His Rally Estonia preparation took a big blow after crashing his Yaris WRC on August’s South Estonia Rally. It certainly wasn’t what the doctor ordered after the Welsh driver’s ordeal on Rally Estonia last year.
In 2019, a heavy landing on one of Estonia’s notorious jumps put him out of a rally car for three months. Evans’ spell on the sidelines meant he missed last year’s Rally Turkey.
Instead, this year, Evans walks away from Estonia and Turkey with his third WRC win as well as the championship lead.
The reserved 31-year-old has a lot to talk about. Come the end of the year, he may well have a lot to shout about.
But Evans won’t get carried away, he’ll stick to his “next rally” approach. And we don’t mind at all, he’ll just keep “doing the best he can.”
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Photos courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing