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Elfyn Evans is Circuit of Ireland's target man

By Sammy Hamill

Published 06/04/2016

Full power ahead: Elfyn Evans won the Mid Wales Rally, the first round of the British rally championship
Full power ahead: Elfyn Evans won the Mid Wales Rally, the first round of the British rally championship

Elfyn Evans has been described as the benchmark in the British rally championship which moves to Belfast for round two, the Circuit of Ireland, starting tomorrow evening. But he might just as well have a big round target painted on his back.

Evans is the man they are all shooting for, the man they want to beat to prove they, too, could have World championship potential.

The 27-year-old Welshman, son of former Ulster Rally winner Gwyndaf Evans, has come back to the British championship - which his father also won - after two years at the peak of the sport, competing against the likes of Sebastien Ogier and our own Kris Meeke for the M-Sport Ford WRC team.

He was ousted, some say controversially, by young Frenchman Eric Camilli, and it hurt. He makes no bones about that.

He had been doing a solid job for Ford, highlighted by his second place in last year's Tour de Corse, but it wasn't enough for M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson to allow him another season at the sharp end.

Whether Wilson didn't see enough progress or there were financial considerations is difficult to say. Either way, Evans has had to take a step back even though he has given the boss a sharp reminder of his talent by winning the first two rounds of the 'second division', WRC2, in this year's World championship in an R5 Ford Fiesta while Camilli has had a crashing time.

In addition, Evans has returned to a British series in which he was junior champion in 2012 to lead a new DMACK Tyres Ford team alongside Finn Max Vatanen. The announcement that he would be taking part was a huge boost for the revamped championship and brought lots of talk about benchmarks and how the bar had been raised.

Aspiring drivers feel if they can beat Evans they will have something to crow about.

They couldn't do it on the first round, the Mid Wales Rally, where Evans was the winner in his home forests although he was pushed harder than many expected by a rising Swedish star, Fredrik Ahlin.

But now, as the BRC series moves to Ulster and onto tarmac roads, some think Evans could be vulnerable. As well as the opposition being boosted by the addition of the leading European and Irish Tarmac championship drivers like Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Keith Cronin, Alastair Fisher and, of course, Craig Breen, the DMACK team is straying into unknown territory.

They have little experience of Irish tarmac conditions and, with their primary focus on developing tyres for the World championship, Evans will be limited to the same choice as WRC drivers, just hard or soft compound. His Michelin and Pirelli rivals will have up to nine different variations to pick from.

But looking on the bright side, DMACK's director of communications Glenn Patterson, an Ulsterman who used to co-drive for Meeke, thinks this might not be such a bad thing.

"With the kind of mixed weather we can expect, and so many types of tyre to choose from, trying to pick the right one at the right time could be a real gamble," he said. "For Elfyn it won't be so complicated, just hard or soft compound, and it might work in our favour."

Cool and quiet like his dad, Evans is unfazed by the pressure or the potential advantages the opposition might have. While admitting the rally is going to be a "big challenge" he knows he has one of the best cars in the field, an evo-specification R5 Fiesta, and a wealth of experience.

"The competition this weekend is immense, probably one of the strongest regional entries for any rally. The stages are both technical and high speed, making it a big challenge, but our pre-rally test went well even though the conditions were really treacherous, wet, muddy and slippery," he said.

"Hopefully, we can push from the start and see where it takes us."

Belfast Telegraph

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