In Elfyn Evans' first exclusive column on Crash.net for 2014, the M-Sport World Rally Team man looks back on Rallye Monte Carlo, where he kept his nose clean and started the season with a brilliant and very encouraging sixth place finish...
Hello and welcome to my first column on Crash.net
I've just got back from doing Rallye Monte Carlo, but before we look back on the Monte, I just want to say what a fantastic opportunity this year is for me. I was hoping that I would have a WRC programme for 2014, but I never imagined that I would be contesting a full WRC season with a manufacturer team and in a full-blown WRC car. I need to say a big thanks to [M-Sport boss] Malcolm [Wilson] and the team for their faith in me. I'll certainly be looking to make the most of it.
I'm also looking forward to keeping you all informed about how I get on. I've seen the previous columns on Crash.net
with Jari-Matti Latvala, Petter Solberg and last year Mads Ostberg, so they are big boots to fill, but my column will of course be a little different. They had a lot of experience and were in a position to fight for rally wins, whereas this year will be all about development for me – my thoughts on events that I have never previously contested and how I progress and improve as a driver throughout the year. I hope you find it interesting.
So, heading to Monte Carlo for the first time - and for only my second event in a WRC car - I have to admit it was fairly daunting. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't a little nervous lining up for the first stage on the Thursday. We all know how challenging the Monte is and anything can happen.
Thankfully, we were really well prepared. I had done a lot of work with the ice note crew over Christmas and we had a really good test with the team where we were able to explore a lot of options with the Michelin tyres in some very tricky conditions. More than anything, I was just happy to be there and I was determined to make the most of it – to get through all the stages and get as much experience as possible.
The recce went well, but as the stages were completely dry at that point we knew the rally was going to be a challenge. As for the shakedown on the Wednesday, it was pretty straight forward – just checking that everything was good with the car and trying to save the tyres so that we had a good allocation for whatever the weather might throw at us.
The weather ended up being a real talking point and I think it caught everyone out on the first morning. On the first stage, no one was expecting snow and even those who had the snow tyres ran with the supersofts. Thankfully we had aired on the side of caution and were able to run with a cross configuration of snow and slick tyres for the third stage. It was a good call and we were just 0.5 seconds shy of a stage win through there. It would have been nice to have gained that extra half a second, but I was very pleased with the time all the same and very happy to be fifth overall heading back for the first service in Gap.
In the afternoon we slipped back one spot, but still ended the day sixth. I think we did everything that we set out to do on that opening leg. We weren't pushing for a top result, that wasn't our goal. We just wanted to learn – to get through all the stages and gain as much experience as possible. So in that respect, it was very good.
The following day our goal was to conserve our position and ensure that we finished the event. We were very cautious and didn't push at all, but I think we showed that our pace could be good too and to set the fourth fastest time in the final test of the day was a really nice surprise. It was a good way to end things before heading to Monaco.