By Paul Evans
Elfyn Evans could join that very small and exclusive band of Welsh world champions this weekend.
The 31-year old driver from Dolgellau is on track to clinch his first FIA World Rally Championship title at Rally Italy in Sardinia.
But whatever materialises on the Mediterranean island this weekend one thing is for sure – it’s going to be the most important event of Evans’ career so far.
As the only driver to have won two rallies this year, he goes into the sixth and penultimate round – which began this morning and finishes live on S4C on Sunday – leading the series by 18 points.
No Welshman has ever won this title before and only two Britons – Colin McRae in 1995 and Richard Burns in 2001 – have reached this pinnacle.
But to increase that lead to an unassailable 30 points advantage will be a tall order and if he is unable to seal the deal in Italy, then at least Evans has one more round up his sleeve in Belgium next month.
If Evans wins again, his Toyota team-mate and closest rival Sébastien Ogier finishes sixth and both Ott Tänak and Kalle Rovanperä finish third or lower, that would be the title sewn up.
For this to happen, his rivals would have to hit major problems, just like they did last time out on Rally Turkey.
Evans, a gentleman and outstanding sportsman, wouldn’t want that to happen. Despite the reward, he wants to win a fair fight.
Evans knows Sardinia well; he made his world rally car debut there in 2013 (finishing sixth) and in half a dozen previous starts he has finished fourth twice (in 2015 and 2019).
Going one better and securing a podium would do his title aspirations no harm at all.
As championship leader, Evans will start first on the road – something that is normally a considerable disadvantage, as the first car sweeps away the worst of the loose sandy gravel and cleans the road for the cars behind.
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) October 9, 2020
Rally Italy normally takes place in the summer, but thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and re-jig of the 2020 WRC calendar, it is running much later in the year.
It means a risk of rain and a change in surface conditions. And it’s a change that might not be so bad for the first car on the road.
One thing that the weather won’t alter is the fast and narrow rock-lined gravel tracks that leave no margin for error.
When a wheel an inch or two out of line can spell disaster, it’s a devilish event to be held at such a critical stage of a world championship.
But with only two rounds remaining, leading the series is all that counts – and if Evans can maintain his advantage at the top of the standings this weekend, he’ll head to the final round in Belgium in an even stronger position.
“Whenever you finish one rally on a high like we did in Turkey then it’s always a good boost for the following round,’ says Evans.
“Leading the championship is certainly a good position to be in, even though it does come with an added challenge in that we will need to sweep the road in Sardinia.
“It is how it is but it’s not going to make it an easy event for us – providing it stays dry, of course. Going to Sardinia in October could change the weather forecasts somewhat.
“It might make it a little bit less demanding for the tyres, but we will still have some difficult choices. We face some loops of stages where we have to choose the tyres for the first and second passes of stages without returning to service, so it’s still going be a big challenge.”
This year’s Rally Italy contains 16 stages, totalling 148.4 stage miles.
Following Shakedown on Thursday (October 8), Rally Italy begins on Friday with a full day of high-speed action.
WRC title rivals Elfyn Evans and Ott Tänak were the men to beat on Thursday as they stormed to equal fastest time at the shakedown for this weekend’s Rally Italia Sardegna, round six of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Dolgellau man is showing real intent. https://t.co/huszCrezEM
— Adam Hughes (@AdamHughes75) October 9, 2020
Two runs over the Tempio Pausania (7.5 miles) and Erula-Tula (15.53 miles) stages are followed by service in Alghero and then a pair of stages to finish the day, namely Sedini-Castelsardo (9.14 miles) and Tergu-Osilo (7.95 miles).
Saturday runs to a similar format, with the Monte Lerno (13.71 miles) and Coiluna-Loelle (9.32 miles) tests each run twice before service precedes a return to Sedini-Castelsardo and Tergu-Osilo (which ran the previous day).
The final day on Sunday is the same as in 2019, with the Cala Flumini (8.73 miles) and Sassari-Argentiera (4.28 miles) tests both run twice.
Sun – S4C
11.00am – Ralio 2020: The event’s closing Power Stage is live.
Wed – S4C
21.30pm – Ralio 2020: Highlights of Rally Italy.