Welshman Elfyn Evans has become the second-ever winner of the FIA WRC Academy.
Evans took his fourth consecutive win this weekend on the all-asphalt Rallye de France to put the title mathematically out of reach of his rivals, even though there is one round of the Academy left to go in Spain next month.
Evans took the lead on the first stage of Friday, fighting with championship frontrunners Alastair Fisher and Brendon Reeves. Fisher, however, retired with a broken engine while Reeves dropped back after a loose stone cut a tyre, leaving Evans with a 30-second lead by Friday lunchtime.
He then faced the pressure of managing his advantage all the way to the finish over 16 stages and 342 competitive kilometres, to eventually win by 42.5 seconds from Jose Suarez and seal the title together with co-driver Phil Pugh.
“It's an amazing feeling to finally win this title,” said Evans. “This is definitely the high point of my career so far and to be honest it hasn't really sunk in yet. There was quite a lot of pressure during this rally so I was certainly feeling a bit nervous, but in the end it went really well. The whole year was better than I could ever have imagined.”
After losing time on the opening round in Portugal, Evans won the Academy rounds in Greece, Finland, Germany and now France. As his prize, he gets the opportunity to contest all the rounds of the World Rally Championship in an R2 Fiesta next year, or step up to a Ford Fiesta Super 2000 for five rounds.
“I've really not decided which prize to go for yet: they both sound fantastic. But I'd love to take this opportunity to make the next step in the World Championship,” he concluded.