In Elfyn Evans' latest exclusive column on Crash.net for 2014, the M-Sport World Rally Team man looks back on Rally Mexico, where he secured a career-best fourth place finish in his Fiesta RS WRC car...
I have to say that I was very pleased with my fourth place finish on Rally Mexico. We certainly didn't go there expecting to finish that high, but more important than the result, was that we were a lot closer to the leaders than we had been so far this year in either Sweden or Monte Carlo. It's all very good progress.
Mexico was of course another new event for me and so the pre-event test we conducted in Northern Spain was very handy in terms of preparation. We had a really good test - simulating the power expected at such high altitudes – so we had a pretty good idea of what it would be like in Leon and how the Fiesta RS WRC car would feel. The recce all went really smoothly, although Dan [Barritt – my co-driver] certainly had a lot of work to do having to make new pace-notes for so many competitive kilometres, the event was just shy of 400!
It all started on the Thursday with the Guanajuatito Street Stage and after that Friday's action included ten more stages and we went from ninth after SS2 to fourth following SS11. Was I surprised by that? To be honest, I hadn't even looked at the results! But yeah, it was a good feeling, although that wasn't the main objective. The weekend was all about gaining experience and continuing our development within the championship, as it was in Monte Carlo and Sweden. The opening day though, was an encouraging one, and I was pleased with our run. However there is always work to be done and we did identify a few areas where we needed to improve and we looked to work on that as the event progressed.
Saturday was another good day in terms of our performance. It would have been nice to battle with Thierry [Neuville] for third – especially as we were split by only 11.1 seconds at the mid-day point, but that just wasn't the aim. Sometimes a fight can help you improve further, but in this case it was more important to finish all the stages. He has a lot more experience, so we decided to let him go.
Heading into the final day I was on the verge of my best ever WRC result but I wasn't too nervous. A lot of drivers had been caught out by the tricky nature of the stages, and it was no different on the final day, so that was a concern. However at the end of the day, we were just concentrating on our own rally so there wasn't so much pressure on us.
Throughout the event in fact we didn't have any major dramas and once again M-Sport provided me with a perfect car. It is thanks to that that we were able to secure fourth.
As for the event itself, it was very memorable. The ceremonial start will certainly stay in my memory for some time. I'd never seen anything like it and Mexico certainly knows how to put on a show! I've never seen anything like it – the atmosphere was just amazing and this is obviously a country which is very passionate about rallying.
It was obviously my second outing with the Fiesta RS WRC on gravel – after also doing that one-off event in Sardinia last year with it. However while Mexico is quite similar to Sardinia in places, the circumstances are completely different. The reduced power due to the high altitudes makes the car much more similar to the cars that I have more experience of, like the Fiesta R5, so it was in some ways a lot easier for me to adapt. In fact it will probably be more challenging going back to Portugal when we will have all that power to play with...
Portugal is the next stop for us at the starr of April and unlike the events so far, I have been there before in 2012 and 2013. That should help a little, but we need to debrief with Malcolm [Wilson – M-Sport boss] before we decide what our objectives will be. It will still be my first time there in a World Rallly Car so we have to be realistic. The primary goal, I think, will be to finish all of the stages, but perhaps we can look to have a few extra targets for this event.
Rally de Portugal includes a very technical route with everything from wide open roads to narrower, tighter sections. There are also a lot of hidden crests which make it hard to find a good rhythm so it is very important to have a good recce. The weather can also prove pivotal. Last year was mainly fine, but the year before saw torrential rain and a real mix-up in the classification.
In terms of preparations, the team will do some research and development testing in the UK before the event, and I will also compete at the Fafe Rally Sprint the weekend before the rally, which should be fun and a nice way to warm-up for the start 'proper'.
Can I go one better than P4 there? I think we need to be realistic and just keep our feet on the ground. Our fourth place in Mexico was a very good result, but in Portugal there will be a lot of drivers looking to redeem themselves. We just need to concentrate on our own times, see where we are at the half-way point, and then decide whether or not to push those ahead.
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.