In Elfyn Evans' latest exclusive column on Crash.net for 2014, the M-Sport World Rally Team man looks back on Rallye Deutschland, where he put in a super drive in his Fiesta RS WRC car, beating his team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen and taking the glory in the Power Stage...
It was a great weekend for us in Germany and I think one of my best ever performances in a rally car, if not the best! Everything came together and the times came to us really naturally so it was great to see that we were able to take such a substantial step forward without too many risks.
Rallye Deutschland is always an event I enjoy - having done it previously in 2012 and 2013, finishing sixth overall last year and second in WRC2 - and there are always lots of fans on the stages, just like there was this time.
I thought the transition to a World Rally car wouldn't be as marked on tarmac as it was on gravel and so in that respect I thought we would be able to make some good progress. But to take fourth place overall at the end and secure my first stage win and in the Power Stage... well I wasn't expecting that!
We finished the opening day on the Friday in seventh and that was about as good as we could have hoped for.
It was my first day in a World Rally car on proper tarmac and we were able to challenge those with much more experience at this level. We posted some good times and some top-three splits and I felt comfortable going into the second leg.
We then had a really good start on Saturday morning but we lost a place to Mikko [Hirvonen – my team-mate] that we were hoping to hold onto in the afternoon. Having said that, it was still really close and it was all to play for as we went into the final day just 4.9 seconds back in seventh.
We felt really good on the Sunday and moved ahead of Mikko and into fourth in SS16 – when we were second quickest. I told myself that I wasn't going to push too much during the final leg. It wasn't our objective to go for the maximum result as there is plenty of time for that next year, but something just clicked.
Then in the Power Stage the first split came through and I was two seconds down on Mikko. We decided to up the pace a little - albeit not to the maximum - and when Mikko made a small mistake it was enough to secure the Power Stage win which was a great way to end the event.
Mikko has helped me so much this year, but everyone wants to beat their team-mate and this is the first time that I have managed to beat him. He didn't make it easy, but we had the edge in the end and I hope it won't be the last time we give him a run for his money this year.
We were really close to Andreas [Mikkelsen] in the end too. Maybe if we'd attacked a little more through the earlier stages we could have had him and got third, but that wasn't the objective.
So was it my best drive yet in the WRC? I think it probably was. We felt really comfortable in the car, as I have mentioned, and the times came naturally without taking any big risks so that was really positive. There's still plenty of room for improvement, but I think we made a big step towards where we want to be.
It was really tricky out there, however, make no mistake about it and with Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke going out that was evidence of that. No matter how successful a rally driver you are, though, you will inevitably make a mistake at some point as we are only human. But to see that I could control the situation where so many others hit problems, that was good. I think a lot of it came down to the fantastic support around us - the team and the weather crews and especially my safety crew who did a brilliant job all weekend.
The car was perfect too - so another big thanks to the team for that. We had no mistakes - no slides and no moments - so I never felt as though we were on the edge. I had complete faith in the car and the team, and that can count for a lot on a rally like this.
We now go to Australia and I'm looking forward to the challenge of another new event. We will need to take a step back in the sense that I have never competed there before, but I can't wait to get started.
I visited Australia last year for a national event in the Ford Fiesta R2 so I have a base knowledge of the sort of thing to expect. Of course this event in a World Rally car will be a completely different rally, but Mikko has a great track record in Australia so I'll be sure to have a chat with him and we'll go out a little earlier than usual to ensure that we're fully acclimatised to the time difference and climate.
Rally Australia is of course a gravel event, but I don't mind whatever surface we rally on. I enjoy both but it's certainly a lot easier to adapt to the WRC car on tarmac. With that in mind, I don't think we'll see a repeat of Germany next week. Experience is still key on gravel so the goal will be to make it through all of the stages and to build our pace as we get more confident and more accustomed to the tests.
There'll be no testing before this event, but that's normal ahead of Australia. Instead, I'll be focussing on my fitness and being as prepared as I can for another new challenge. We do have a few PR days in Greystoke though, so that's a good opportunity to get used to driving on gravel again.
As for aims, firstly, we need to get accustomed to the stages and the way in which the car reacts to the nature of the roads in Australia. My primary objective is to finish with a good base knowledge for the years to come. There will be a lot of guys with something to prove, so if we can focus on our own event and progressing our own pace on gravel, I think we'll be in a good position come the end of the rally.
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