ELFYN Evans is undoubtedly a cool customer behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta WRC (World Rally Championship) car but he’s less comfortable with being in the public eye.
“There are some bits of the job that are maybe not really down my street, I’ll be honest,” he tells me following a flat-out, best-time-of-the-day-setting ride around the rally stage at Goodwood Festival of Speed.
“Talking to journalists?” I volunteer, as I brush the dust from my race suit.
“If I’m honest, yes,” he admits. “I don’t mind this [one-on-one interviews] so much, but media functions and public speaking I’m not a huge fan of.”
Calm, quiet and collected, but with a clear determination behind the wheel, Evans, 29, is a relatively enigmatic character in the motor sport world. Despite being a works driver for Ford in the WRC since the beginning of last season he’s not as well known outside Wales (and perhaps even inside) as the likes of the late, great characters of Colin McRae and Richard Burns.
The son of Gwyndaf Evans – a successful rally driver himself (he won the 1996 British Rally Championship) and owner of a Ford dealership in Dolgellau, Gwynedd (Fords have dominated the family’s life) – Elfyn learnt to drive aged eight in a Mk1 Fiesta “banger car” in the field behind his childhood home. But his first love was for two wheels, not four.Evans doesn’t hold back while giving Will Dron a passenger ride at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2018.
“I didn’t really do so much driving as a kid,” he says. “I learnt to drive at a very young age but mainly it was bikes and motocross, that type of thing.”
Evans travelled to motorbike trials and events with his grandad, but a career on bikes wasn’t on the cards, he admits: “I wasn’t good enough.”
His Mk6 Escort was covered in dents and ‘a right sh*tbox’, he says
The old Fiesta came to a dramatic, fiery end when Elfyn was 11. “It was warming up one day, it back-fired and up it went. That was the end of that!”
His first proper road car was a 1.6-litre Mk6 Escort that was used as the workshop runaround for the family business. It was covered in dents and “a right shitbox”, he says. “I started doing it up when I was 16 – did a full respray myself.” He also fitted it with a bodykit, suspension, brakes and wheels from the racier Ford Escort RS 2000 model.
Evans became handy with a spanner, of course, and admits to bunking off school and college sometimes so that he could work on cars. “I never actually finished college because I was always in the garage.”
Around the same time he began competing in club rallies with a Nissan Micra that he prepared himself. Then, in 2007, he came third in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy and the following year he won the series outright, in both the UK and Ireland.
But despite that success, 2008 was not the happiest of years for Evans: “We were competing in a rally in Ireland and I hit a spectator… he died on the spot. That was pretty horrible to deal with.
“I took comfort from the fact that it wasn’t a mistake that I did – he stepped into the road when the road was closed. So while it was horrible, I knew deep down that there was nothing more that I could have done.”
In addition to dealing with that tragedy, a run-in with the law took Evans off the road altogether: “I was just speeding on the motorway and the officer combined that with the fact that it was raining to make it a dangerous driving offence,” he says. “I thought it was a bit harsh, considering.”
Evans blames naivety and honesty for being thrown in a jail in Runcorn. “I’d never been in trouble before in my life, was a bit gullible, admitted to it all and obviously got shafted.”
He was banned from driving for 12 months and unable to go rallying, so spent the year working for his dad’s business.
After getting back his licence in 2010, rather than ease back onto the road with something sensible, Evans bought a hot hatch – a Ford Focus RS Mk1 – which had been part-exchanged at the dealership.
His return to motor sport the same year was all-guns blazing, too. By selling two Ford Fiesta ST road cars that he’d won in 2008, he entered and won the Junior British Rally title and the Pirelli Star Driver shoot-out, the prize for which was a funded group N Subaru Impreza drive in the 2011 British Championship. Evans managed two wins and second place overall with the Subaru – the only non-Ford in which he’s competed.
At that point, with the rallying starting to move in the right direction, he was faced with a tough decision.
“At end of 2011 I had to sell the Focus RS and we found enough funding to do the Junior World Championship (JWRC), which was a big commitment for us at the time – something like £150,000. But to get to the next class, it was going from £150,000 for a season to £500,000. We knew that the only way [to do it] was to win that JWRC series, because that came with a prize of five rallies with M-Sport [in the WRC 2 second-tier class].”
“To get to the next class, it was going from £150,000 for a season to £500,000. We knew that the only way [to do it] was to win that JWRC series”
Evans confesses the first round of JWRC, in 2012, was a disaster – “a bit of a wake-up call” – but he went on to win the next four rounds and the championship with it.
Having secured the M-Sport deal, Evans was joined for the first time by experienced co-driver Daniel Barritt and the pair took one win and two second places in their 2013 WRC 2 campaign, but arguably more important was a very impressive sixth place in a senior WRC car at Rally Italia Sardegna, after being asked to substitute for Nasser Al-Attiyah with just two days notice, and using a different co-driver.
As a result of that performance, Evans spent two years at the sport’s highest level with M-Sport, in 2014 and 2015, but despite decent results, M-Sport dropped him back to WRC 2 – minus Barritt – for 2016.
He finished third in the WRC 2 that year but also took part in – and won – the British Rally Championship, and for 2017 was again called up to WRC by M-Sport. He managed to clinch a dream first WRC win last year at his home round in Wales, becoming the first British driver to win Rally GB since Richard Burns, in 2000.
This year has been a tough one for Evans, by his own admission: “There’s been the odd high, the second place in Portugal was good, but it’s definitely fair to say that this season hasn’t gone the way we’d hoped.”
But Evans will be looking to repeat his Dayinsure Wales Rally GB win in a couple of weeks’ time (October 4-7). “Competing at home always brings a special motivation,” he smiles.
Whatever happens next in his career, there’s no sign that his passion for fast Fords will diminish; his dream car is another Escort, he says.
“Since I was 12 years old, I always wanted an Escort Cosworth. It’s been the one car on my tick list and one day I’d like to buy one, but they’re becoming more rare and more expensive all the time.”
Elfyn Evans: My life in cars
- 1999 Ford Fiesta Mk1 (pre-licence and off-road, only)
- 2004 Ford Escort Mk6 1.6 (with RS 2000 bodykit and parts)
- 2006 MG ZS 180 (left-hand drive)
- 2008 2x Ford Fiesta STs
- 2009 Licence suspended
- 2010 Ford Focus RS Mk1
- 2011 Ford Fiesta Zetec-s 1.6 (left-hand drive, also used as a recce car for rallying)
- 2012-on 3 x Ford Focus diesels (left-hand drive)
- Dream car Ford Escort Cosworth