Elfyn Evans says his 2020 World Rally Championship title challenge can be put down to a feeling of being right at home at Toyota.
Evans ended his 12-year association with M-Sport last November to join Tommi Makinen’s squad on a two-year deal, and currently has a 14-point advantage over team-mate Sebastien Ogier in the drivers’ standings heading into the Rally Monza season finale this weekend.
The Welshman has never previously finished higher than fifth in the standings, but could become the first British driver since Richard Burns in 2001 to win the title after recording victories in Sweden and Turkey.
When he has not been among the podium places, Evans has been a consistent points scorer this term, finishing fourth in Mexico, Estonia and Sardini
Asked if he could pinpoint why this season was different from previous campaigns in the WRC, Evans told Autosport the little time he needed to feel comfortable in his new surroundings had been crucial.
“I have had the speed required on individual events before, but I have never been able to string it all together to be in a position to challenge for the World Rally Championship,” he explained.
“Moving to Toyota Gazoo Racing this year brought some unknowns, but I was surprised at how quickly I settled in with both the team and the Yaris World Rally Car.
“I had a great feeling with the car on the first few events, which has allowed us to deliver the performances to be in this position.
“I’ve never been in the position to fight for the title, but of course I’d much rather be in this position than fighting for the scraps at the back, as I have done in previous years. It’s a nice challenge to have.”
This week’s Italian event is unique in that only the Saturday leg is held on closed public roads while Thursday, Friday and Sunday’s action is based around the Monza circuit.
Evans had expressed concerns about Rally Monza and made it clear just how important last week’s pre-event test was going to be for the squad.
With Rally Germany and the Ypres Rally both cancelled because of COVID-19, the curtain-raising Rally Monte Carlo in January remains the only time he has rallied the Yaris on asphalt.
However, having spent much of last Thursday testing and working through various permutations with his engineers, the 31-year-old says he is in a much better frame of mind.
“The feeling in the car was positive straightaway – I really enjoyed the balance and everything in the car,” he said of the test.
“We worked on some small set-up changes but, overall, the feeling is good.
“Monza has two very different characteristics; we don’t know much about either to be honest, except what we have seen in videos.
“We are trying the set the car up as best we can to get it to our feeling, or what we predict is going to be the case in Monza.
“But it felt good and obviously I hope that carries forward to the rally.
“It’s not going to be easy on those stages around the circuit, it will be difficult to judge everything perfectly and to make no mistakes because I think that any mistakes will be punished hard.”