By Paul Evans
You can’t measure the influence that the Twelfth Man has on a sportsperson or team, but there’s no doubt that fan power can certainly make something extraordinary happen.
It did on last year’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB, when a group of Elfyn Evans supporters got together via Twitter and created Elfyn’s Corner – and from there witnessed the M-Sport Ford driver march to his maiden FIA World Rally Championship victory.
Elfyn’s Corner was the brainchild of Phil Duke and Sam Walker, who just wanted to bring Evans fans together to show their support of Britain’s top rally driver on home soil. Together with Peter Jones, Steve Taylor and Lee (such is the informal way Elfyn’s Corner was organised over the internet, nobody knows Lee’s surname), they began to put their plans into place. Despite none of them having contacts at Wales Rally GB or within the FIA World Rally Championship, it all came together very quickly – thanks to the help of WRGB official Terry Jones and the encouragement of the event.
There was a particular corner in Myherin forest that was perfect. It’s easily accessible, not far off the A44 Llanidloes to Aberystwyth road, between the villages of Llangurig and Ponterwyd, and a gentle walk from the car parking area to a magnificent natural amphitheatre, where you can view a cracking fast right hand corner from the elevated safety of a high grass bank.
Look beyond, and you can also see the competitors snake past some wind turbines and through a tricky downhill section of technical corners – 40 seconds of viewing in total, which is excellent for a forest rally, as elsewhere cars can flash by in a second or two.
But let’s be honest – Myherin forest was also chosen because it was the opening stage on the Friday morning of last year’s Wales Rally GB! You never know what will happen in rallying, so the closer you are to the start, the better the chance of seeing the driver you’ve come to support.
Duke’s wife Emma handmade a big Elfyn’s Corner banner and plans were sown to sell stickers and give the proceeds to charity. When the group of fans eventually met in person for the first time at last year’s Wales Rally GB, they were amazed at what Elfyn’s Corner had become.
“We couldn’t believe the turnout,” said Duke. “There were lots of people with Welsh flags who had come to Elfyn’s Corner, the atmosphere was fantastic and we had great support from the likes of the S4C Ralïo programme. Even Elfyn’s family, including his father Gwyndaf, were there spectating, which was very touching. And we couldn’t have wished for a better result – to see Elfyn win his home round of the WRC, and also score his first WRC victory, on the first year that we’d had Elfyn’s Corner, was very special indeed.
“We’d very much like to thank the Wales Rally GB organisers, and Terry Jones who runs the Myherin stage, for allowing Elfyn’s Corner to happen. There can’t be many sports, and certainly not at world championship level, where a group of fans come up with an idea, approach an event, and receive the full support to make something special happen. The relationship spectators have with competitors and events is fairly unique in rallying, and long may that continue.”
Having raised £400 for the Wales Air Ambulance, Elfyn’s Corner has received support from M-Sport and Ford for this year. New stickers are going to be sold in many more places, and all proceeds will go this year to the Richard Burns Foundation – to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the late former world champion’s first of three Rally GB wins.
There is one slight concern, however. Evans is having a frustrating season this year, with several day one problems destroying what could otherwise have been excellent results. And this year, Myherin forest is run on the Saturday morning – meaning that Evans will have to survive a full day of rallying before reaching Elfyn’s Corner, which will be run twice as stages 10 and 15. But his fans have no doubt that Evans will be not just flying past them on Saturday 6 October – but flying past them in the lead!