Rallye Monte-Carlo winner Thierry Neuville says Elfyn Evans’s performance on the season’s first event shows he will be in the fight for this year’s FIA World Rally Championship title.
Evans, who now drives for Toyota Gazoo Racing, posted four fastest times, led the Gap-based event for half its stage distance and ran in the top three all event long. He kept Hyundai’s Neuville and his Toyota team-mate and seven-time Monte winner Sébastien Ogier at bay to lead the Monte into the final day.
However, Neuville then passed Evans for the lead on the penultimate test. Ogier jumped Evans for second on the final power stage. Neuville said that Evans has “great talent” and that he will take victories in his maiden season with the Yaris WRC.
“The proof is there,” he said. “We have already been in this situation in Corsica last year when he came close to winning. He has a great talent and a great speed and he feels very comfortable straight away with this new car – that’s promising for him.
“Like I said, we have seen his speed on tarmac, so this performance wasn’t a surprise, but I think he’s going to be on the pace on a lot of rallies. Elfyn will have some of the victories this season. And, in general, the Toyota is strong and on sections like the Sunday we were able to continually set fastest times and control the race.”
Evans, who won Rally GB in 2017, wasn’t sure about being tipped as a title contender this year but was flattered by the praise from Neuville.
“There’s no point in pre-planning, is there,” said the Welshman. “It’s better to just keep your head down, go to every rally and do your best – it’s that simple. There’s no point trying to come up with some master plan, just go to the stages and let the rest take care of itself.
“I think we already showed we have pace on all surfaces, now the car feels very good. OK we’ve done very little on gravel and that’s now the critical part of the calendar – we have to wait to find out if we have the same confidence, but based on previous results then it doesn’t look so bad.”
Toyota team boss Tommi Mäkinen was not too downhearted about a one-two, going in on early Sunday morning before turning into a two-three finish.
“It has been an excellent weekend for us,” said the four-time WRC champion. “Of course, there is a small disappointment about today and missing out on the victory. We are always learning, and the drivers [just] didn’t have the perfect feeling with the car this morning.”