‘Wales heralds stunning performance on the global sporting stage’.
A report headline from last weekend’s Rugby World Cup game at Twickenham following Wales’ terrific comeback win over England, perhaps? Or one from Saturday’s English humiliation at the hands of Australia, also at Twickenham, which sent the Welsh team straight into the quarter-finals?
Either would be appropriate, of course, but in a motorsport context, which is more important here, it could also refer to young Elfyn Evans recording the best-ever performance in an FIA world championship event for a Welshman.
Evans’ stunning second place in the Tour de Corse, the 11th round of the 2015 World Rally Championship, won’t generate anything like the mainstream-media column inches that the rugby has, of course, but it’s a big deal for rally fans. And, going off at a tangent for a second, it trumps his countryman Tom Pryce’s third-place finishes in the 1975 Austrian and ’76 Brazilian Formula 1 Grands Prix.
In the face of criticism over his recent form and his M-Sport team boss Malcolm Wilson having to reassure the doubters that Evans would not be replaced in the #5 Ford Fiesta RS WRC for the final few rallies of the season, the 26-year-old got his head down and took the fight to the dominant Volkswagens on the torturous Corsican asphalt roads.
It was a timely reminder of Evans’ potential at rallying’s top level – particularly on an event as technically arduous as the Tour de Corse, which made a welcome return to the WRC calendar for the first time since 2008.
Evans battled treacherous conditions – rain so hard that stages were cancelled due to flooding and landslides – to lead the event, the 2012 Junior World Champion comfortable out front in what was only his 25th outing in a full-blown World Rally car. That he was caught and passed by Jari-Matti Latvala’s benchmark Volkswagen Polo was perhaps inevitable, but his defence of a maiden second place from the attacking Polo of Andreas Mikkelsen showed immense maturity. He can be immensely proud to have split the cars that have helped the German marque to three straight manufacturers’ crowns.
It all bodes well for the son of Welsh rallying folk hero, former British champion and WRC event class winner Gwyndaf – particularly for next month’s season finale in his backyard, Wales Rally GB. With the momentum of third place in Argentina earlier in the year and second in Corsica, Evans Jr will be out to create some more headlines in motorsport’s most dramatic discipline.
Don’t forget that in the 42-year history of the WRC, during which there have been 542 qualifying events, only four British drivers have stood on the top step of the podium – Roger Clark (once), Colin McRae (25 times), Richard Burns (10) and Kris Meeke (once). I’d love to see a Welshman join the two Englishmen, the Scot and the Northern Irishman in that exclusive club.