In Elfyn Evans' latest exclusive column on Crash.net, the M-Sport World Rally Team man looks back on Rally Sweden, where he came within a whisker of scoring points on his very first full-snow rally...
We've just done Rally Sweden and of course I was a little disappointed that it had to end the way it did. We were so close to getting to the end and taking ninth in our M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC car, but that is the way it goes sometimes. Besides we still got a lot of good experience from the event, which is a really big positive for us. We had the aim of getting through all 24 special stages without a mistake, and while we didn't quite do that we came very, very close, so I'm not too downcast.
Sweden was a complete step into the unknown for us – given we had never been there before, never done a full-winter rally before or done an event with studded tyres. That made it especially challenging.
Pre-event we had a good test and we also got a lot of good advice from our team-mates, Mikko [Hirvonen] and Jarmo [Lehtinen]. We were more than aware though that the rally would be completely different. It was only going to get warmer as the event approached, and with no really cold weather on the horizon, I don't think anyone was able to test in the sorts of conditions we actually experienced. It was daunting for sure, but we were determined to make the most of it – to learn all we could and improve our skills in those unfamiliar conditions.
The opening leg went really well and we had no major problems. We had a spin in SS2, but we were really just finding our feet in that test and getting used to the conditions – it was no major drama. We didn't want to make any silly mistakes early on so we just eased into it with the aim of making it into the top-ten come the end of the rally. We weren't paying too much attention to those around us, just concentrating on our own pace and our own rally. As such, we were quite happy to conclude day one in twelfth. We knew it would be difficult so to have made it through that first day relieved some of the pressure and we could then look to improve the pace through the next couple of days.
We felt a lot more comfortable in the conditions on the Friday and we upped the pace a little accordingly. Still, though, the objective was to focus on ourselves. We weren't paying too much attention to the positions, and while we did climb up to tenth overall, we were concentrating more on the kilometres per second and just trying to have a good, clean run through all of the stages. We started off at 2s/km adrift of the leaders, and by the end we were down to less than a second so that was very encouraging.
The final day was also good and we had gained another position on the leaderboard and were satisfied with the job we had done. The last test, however, didn't go to plan....
It was going into a high speed corner that tightened where we had the problem. I didn't have it down as tightening as much as it did. The back end then came out from the rut, and then there was nothing we could do. It was quite high speed and I was very relieved that we didn't roll the car... it was close! But, we still ended up in the ditch and while there were plenty of spectators around we had some damage to the radiator so we decided with the team to call it a day, rather than try to make the finish and risk any damage to the engine. It was a shame, but you live and learn.
Overall, Sweden was definitely something new for us and despite how it finished up, like I said earlier, we still came away with a lot of good experience. I think we need to be satisfied with that.
Of course it would have been nice had the weather been colder and then we could have got some experience of a 'proper' snow rally, but it was the same for everyone and we all had to deal with the same conditions and we come away having gained a lot.
The Fiesta RS WRC was perfect all weekend - the mechanics did a really good job and we didn't have a single problem. That was one of the reasons we were able to improve the pace throughout the weekend, and so while it didn't necessarily finish up how we would have wanted it to, there was much to be very, very positive about.
Now we have another break before we head to Mexico in March – although we will do a full days testing in Spain before that just to get back into the swing of gravel rallying.
Rally Mexico will be another new one for me, but I'm looking forward to it. From what I've heard it's a great event with so many fans and spectators out on the stages, I can't wait to experience it for myself. There are some really long stages as well and I've never driven at such high altitudes so it will be another steep learning curve for me. It's going to be interesting.
The aim, as it is another new event for us, will be similar to what it was in Monte and Sweden – get through all the stages with no mistakes and work on building our pace as the event continues.
Wish us luck.
Hwyl am y tro*,
To keep tabs on the M-Sport World Rally Team's progress in 2014, simply follow this link: www.m-sport.co.uk
*Bye for now