In Elfyn Evans' latest exclusive column on Crash.net for 2014, the M-Sport World Rally Team man looks back on the Rally Argentina, where he avoided drama on one of the calendar's toughest events to pick up more satisfying points in his debut WRC season
I was told by Malcolm [Wilson] at the beginning of the event that the Rally Argentina is a finishers' rally, so to reach the finish in seventh place with no major problems and to score more points was very satisfying, if a bit frustrating at times.
As any rally driver will tell you, it's just not in our nature to back off the pace, but I know it was for my own benefit and I think we learned a lot as a result. I also knew that this event was not about showing speed - it was about gaining the experience to progress here next year, and we certainly did that.
The Rally started off very well and I was happy after recce. It's not easy to make new notes for so many long stages, but I think that we did a good job. We coupled that with using the first pass of the rally as a high speed recce, and that worked well. We had a small issue in Shakedown, but the team put that right and we had a perfect car for the rally.
Come Friday, we kept our heads down and made no mistakes, which helped us rise to fourth position by the end of the day. I had Malcolm's advice in mind the entire day, so it was not a massive surprise to find ourselves in such a good position as we had done exactly what he told us to do. I was pleased to have made it through all of the stages without incident. The fact that so many of the top guys made mistakes just goes to show how difficult these stages are, and I was pleased that I had done the job and made it through.
We slipped back on the second day, though this was because we knew we needed to stay committed to our strategy of focusing on finishing. Others were pushing harder than us so I wasn't surprised that Andreas (Mikkelsen) and Thierry (Neuville) got back in front as they didn't have too many Rally 2 penalties. They've been here before and they have the experience so they know the limits much better than I do and I wasn't prepared to throw away the opportunity to learn more about this event by pushing too hard and damaging the car.
We weren't looking at the times this weekend; we were just looking at gaining the experience so that we might have the opportunity to challenge them next year, so with that in mind I was content to be sitting in seventh at the end of the second leg.
The final day was very tricky with thick fog and mud. I think it's fair to say that we have our fair share of mud in Wales, but nothing like it was on that final day in Argentina! It was crazy and definitely some of the most difficult stages I have ever driven. But the most important thing is that we made it through and gained some really vital experience in the process.
I guess my main rival was my fellow M-Sport driver Robert [Kubica] who was also tackling the event for the first time. His approach was very similar to mine, so it didn't feel so much like a competition between us.
Before the final stage start I said to Dan that we would just continue as we had the whole rally, so if it's enough, it's enough and if it's not, it's not. As it happens, Robert really upped the pace on that stage, and I wasn't prepared to push any more than what was comfortable, so I was more than happy to stay seventh, particularly given the conditions.
On a side note, I have to comment on the passion of the fans, because they were incredible! Even while driving the stages, you could sense them cheering you on even if you couldn't quite appreciate just how many of them were out there! They camp out on the stages days before the rally to get a good spot. We have some pretty hard-core rally fans in Wales, but these guys could give us a run for our money!
Looking ahead, I cannot wait for the next round in Sardinia, where I made my WRC debut last season. I'm really looking forward to competing somewhere familiar as it means I can certainly up the pace considerably when compared to what we were running in Argentina.
It'll be nice to go back to an event where I have already experienced the speed and power of a world rally car. The roads are quite narrow and technical and there are a lot of obstacles on the side of the road that you need to be careful of. Like Portugal, there is no room for error, but when you get it right, it's a really good feeling.
I hope that I can continue where I left off in Portugal – continuing to develop my speed and closing the gap to the leaders. In the meantime, we will do a bit of testing ahead of the rally to up the momentum leading into the event, and I plan to head out earlier than usual to do some training and acclimatise to the warmer conditions as well.
With all of that in mind, I cannot wait to get going!
Hwyl am y tro*, Elfyn Evans
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