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Elfyn Evans Seeks Turkish Delight On The Hard And Bumpy Road To A World Title

Elfyn Evans has had to show more than just driving skills in the past few months. Patience, resolve and single-mindedness have all been necessary, but now he sits close to an historic achievement as Paul Evans reports.

Now that Elfyn Evans has resumed his challenge for what could be the first FIA World Rally Championship title for a Welsh driver, fans will be able to follow every gravel twist and Tarmac turn from the sofa, as the hugely popular motorsports programme Ralïo roars back to S4C.

Before Covid-19 restrictions interrupted proceedings, Evans had made his best ever start to a WRC campaign when, on his debut for the Toyota Gazoo team, he scored his maiden podium finish on the Monte Carlo Rally.

Things got even better in snowy Scandinavia, when the Dolgellau ace became the first British driver to win Rally Sweden.

The momentum continued with a solid fourth place on Rally Mexico, before the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on the WRC.

Six months later, a heavily revised and much shortened WRC season reappeared behind team-branded face masks.

The pandemic forced eight events, including Wales Rally GB, to be cancelled. Only rallies in Turkey and Italy (held on the island of Sardinia) survived from the original 2020 calendar, while the recent Rally Estonia and the final Ypres Rally in Belgium were drafted in to host a round of the WRC for the first time.

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And so it restarted in Estonia – never previously a happy hunting ground for Evans. He had injured his back after an awkward landing there in 2019, and then destroyed his Yaris WRC after a monster high-speed accident during a practice event in 2020.

But Evans produced the goods when important WRC points were at stake – finishing fourth on Rally Estonia a few weeks ago to maintain his challenge for the world title.

It sees Evans head to Rally Turkey this weekend lying second in the drivers’ standings – nine points behind six time world champion and Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier and four points ahead of reigning world champion and Estonia winner Ott Tänak (Hyundai).

And Ralïo will be there to follow Evans’ every move – in Turkey, and right through until the WRC season is completed.

 

Produced and presented by Emyr Penlan, Ralïo will be broadcast at 21.30 on the Wednesday after each remaining round of the WRC.

Emyr and Rhys ap Williams will give expert analysis during the 30 minute edited highlights programmes, as Ralïo dedicates each programme to Evans’ high-octane battle for the world title.

With fewer rallies, one mistake or mechanical mishap could prove vital – and Turkey is the roughest and toughest remaining round of them all.

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Nicky Grist knows this only too well.

Rally Turkey in 2006 was the Abergavenny-based co-driver’s 128th and final WRC event.

Having won 21 world rallies, it was as far from a quiet and gentle swansong as you can get, for Grist was navigating for Colin McRae in a Kronos Racing Citroën Xsara WRC.

Drafted in as super-subs to replace an injured Sébastien Loeb, the event was unexpectedly wet and muddy – yet just as rough as they’d feared.

In the end, Grist’s final WRC event came to an end halfway through the final stage, when the car’s alternator failed and the battery died – putting them out of what had been a battle for a podium position.

“Rally Turkey has always been an exceptionally rough event, with a lot of loose rocks and deeps ruts causing carnage,” says Grist.

“It was a longer event back in 2006, and the strategy was to have a balanced approached between speed and surviving with the least number of problems. If you broke a wheel or had a puncture and lost a minute, it was unlikely to make much of a difference to your finishing position.

“But it’s different now.

 

“Turkey could be the one event that brings out the best in someone or they could pay a heavy price. It will depend which drivers are prepared to take a risk – which drivers will push hard and be lucky, and which drivers will be left at the side of the road with broken suspension.

“In this year’s heavily reduced WRC calendar, the driver who gambles and wins in Turkey could leave as firm favourite to lift the world title.”

Based in the coastal resort of Marmaris, this weekend’s Rally Turkey (18-20 September) features some of the toughest terrain in the WRC, with the rocky gravel surface and high temperatures combining to create demanding conditions for the drivers and cars.

The relatively slow average speeds can add to the complexities, reducing the airflow available to cool the engines, transmissions and brakes.

And you won’t have to remind Evans how bone-rattling Rally Turkey is, after he hit a massive rock and broke his car’s suspension there in 2018.

“Rally Turkey is always a difficult event and it will be quite a stark contrast to the fast roads that we had in Estonia,” says Evans.

“It’s a lot more slow-speed and a different character altogether.

 

“It is sure to be very hot and very physically demanding for the crews, and also very demanding on the cars. We need to be ready to adapt to that.

“We did some testing in Greece a few weeks ago to prepare and the car felt pretty good, so we hope that will transfer to a good feeling on the rally.”

Emyr Penlan, who has been to Rally Turkey twice before, knows first hand how spectacular this weekend’s event will look on television.

“We’re absolutely delighted that Ralïo is back on S4C,” says Penlan.

“Despite everything, this could be the most successful year for a Welsh driver in the long history of the World Rally Championship, and we’ll be dedicating each programme to following Elfyn Evans on his quest to become world champion.

“From the Tinopolis studios in the heart of Llanelli, we’ll be editing the footage as we receive it from the stages over the weekend and putting an exciting programme together for broadcast at nine o’clock in the evening on the Wednesday after each rally.

“This year’s battle for the world title, whilst shorter than we’d all hoped, will go down to the wire.

“The remaining rounds in Turkey, Sardinia and Belgium will be flat-out from the word go – and there is no-one faster than Elfyn in this winner takes all fight for the title.

“And Ralïo will be right there in his wheel-tracks, every step of the way – from now until the end of the season!”

This weekend’s shortened Rally Turkey itinerary sees 12 stages run over 138.5 miles (223km) with no spectators due to the on-going pandemic restrictions.

Following the shakedown stage, Evans and his rivals will get their first taste of competitive running on Friday evening with two stages, the İçmeler and Gökçe tests, held near to the Asparan Service Park.

Those are followed on Saturday by a full loop of three stages to the west of Marmaris, which are repeated in the afternoon following a mid-day service halt, with the day’s action totalling 66.5 miles (107kms).

The final day on Sunday includes two runs over the longest stage of the rally, the 23.7 mile (38.15km) Çetibeli test – plus the added incentive of additional Power Stage bonus points.

In line with the very latest WRC calendar, Ralïo will be broadcast at 21.30 on the following days:

Wednesday 23 September – Rally Turkey

Wednesday 14 October – Rally Italy

Wednesday 25 November – Ypres Rally

Ralïo is broadcast in Wales on S4C and is available on Freeview 4, Sky 104, Virgin TV 166 and Freesat 104.

 In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, S4C is available on Sky 134, Freesat 120 and Virgin TV 166.

 S4C is available on-line and on demand at s4c.cymru, BBC iPlayer, YouView, tvcatchup.com, TVPlayer.com and other platforms, throughout the UK, and can be accessed through the S4C App for Apple and Android devices.

 

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