In Elfyn Evans' latest exclusive column on Crash.net for 2014, the M-Sport World Rally Team man looks back on Rally Finland, where he took his fifth top-ten finish of the season, after coming home in seventh in his Fiesta RS WRC...
All in all, I think we can take a lot of positives from Rally Finland. It took a while to get up to speed, but when everything was going well there is no better feeling than driving a World Rally car through those amazing stages!
Coming into the event we knew it would be a big step up. I'd done the event three times before, but I didn't complete the full event last year in the Ford Fiesta R5 due to mechanical problems. So the majority of my experience came from driving the Ford Fiesta R2 and then doing it in a WRC car made it a completely different rally and I mean completely different.
We had a good test, however, and felt well prepared, but we still knew that it would be one of the biggest challenges of the year.
After Thursday's opening four tests we found ourselves 13th overall and to be honest I reckon my pacenotes were a little on the safe side. Also I think there was an element of just not being 100 per cent confident at that point in the rally. It took me a while to find my feet, and when you hesitate in Finland, you lose so much time. The one thing these stages demand is commitment.
On Friday I felt a lot more confident on the narrower more technical sections and I think that was visible from the times. I felt really good and I was really happy with some of the split times. I could just concentrate on improving my speed and enjoying the stages, so that was a good day with top-ten times in all nine tests - including two seventh best times - and we moved up to eighth overall.
Saturday morning was also really promising. We felt comfortable and were ready to make further improvements over the afternoon. Unfortunately though, we picked up a puncture on the first stage of the loop. As we were only carrying one spare, we took the sensible option to ensure that we got the car back to service and that was a bit of a shame as we couldn't push.
Finally we came to Sunday, and while it was pretty short, the last 36.60 competitive kilometres were very valuable and we came home seventh.
Experience, as I have said, is so important in Finland and because of that I think we will be in a much stronger position next year.
We got to use the Facelift version of the Fiesta RS WRC in Finland, but for anyone getting confused those changes were just cosmetic, bringing the top-specification WRC cars in line with Ford's latest production car, so it doesn't bring any increase in performance. But it was great to finally see it on the stages and I am sure you will agree the car looks amazing.
It was good to show it off in Finland too, rallying's spiritual home. Finland is always special and for me to drive it in a World Rally car was incredible. Driving a car as powerful as this through these stages is very exhilarating and the atmosphere just adds to the whole experience.
We now go on to Germany and I am really looking forward to it - more than any other event so far this year. I may have won in Wales last year, but I think Germany was the standout event for me. Everything came together and I felt confident all weekend.
We will have more experience to carry forward and hopefully we can really close the gap to the leaders. There are a lot of world rally cars on the entry and there will be a lot of drivers all pushing for the top positions so I won't be looking too much at the result. But if I can really close the gap to the leaders, then I'll be happy.
It is not an easy tarmac rally by any means. The stages vary a lot in character and a lot of mud can be dragged onto the roads and that makes it really slippery. There are also so many obstacles that you need to watch out for, but I still really enjoy it.
We will do another week of testing before Rallye Deutschland. We will have the opportunity to test both in the vineyards and at Baumholder so it should give us a lot of good preparation ahead of the event. It will just be a case of finding the optimum set-up and ensuring that we get back up to speed with the art of driving on asphalt.
It will obviously be my first event with the car on a pure asphalt round, but hopefully the step-up won't be as marked as it was on gravel. I really enjoy the asphalt rallies and we have good experience from the Ford Fiesta R5 last year.
I just plan to concentrate on my own rally and if I can close the gap to the leaders and show some good progression then I think it will be a good event for us.
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