Saturday, October 23, 2021

Racing Lines: Elfyn Evans’ flying Finnish

It was on the classic Oittila stage at the end of the first day where Evans began to show his hand. The on-board footage was mesmerising (Daniel Ricciardo described it on social media as “bloody awesome”) as the bright lights of Evans’ Gazoo Racing Toyota Yaris blazed a narrow trail through trees shrouded in total darkness. Rally people don’t tend to gush, especially when they are Scandinavian, but Toyota’s team boss said enough to show how impressed he was. “Elfyn found another gear in the Oittila darkness and since then we were in a much better zone,” said Jari-Matti Latvala, himself a three-time Rally Finland winner. “He can be really proud of what he did here.”

A clean sweep of all four stages on Saturday morning was the bedrock of victory. Tänak was the only driver who could live with him and hit back with a hat-trick of stage wins in the afternoon, but Evans responded on the penultimate test, then they were in a dead heat on the last one. On the final day, Evans blitzed three of the four remaining stages, choosing to keep his foot in to score maximum bonus points on the Power Stage finale, such was his soaring confidence. Tänak and Hyundai had no answer, defeated by 14.1sec.

What was Tänak missing from his previous two victorious visits? “Speed,” he deadpanned. “I had about 14 seconds of speed missing. That’s what it takes.” Ask an Estonian a silly question…

As Evans flew, team-mate Ogier put in a muted showing by his high standards, finishing a distant fifth. He didn’t even score a bonus point on the Power Stage when his Yaris faltered, leading to a 20-point swing at the top of the championship. Evans is the only driver who can stop Ogier claiming an eighth WRC crown, but the gap is still 24 points with just two rallies to go – and both are on asphalt, the surface on which the maestro is most at home.

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When asked whether he believed he still had a shot at the crown, Evans said: “I don’t believe. I don’t think too much about it, to be honest. After the Acropolis Rally [where Ogier finished third and Evans only sixth], it was a mathematical chance for me and now it’s slightly more realistic. It would only take Séb to have one retirement and it’s all open. But I don’t wish that and all we can worry about is our performance on the next two rallies.”


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