When Eli Evans last competed in the RSEA Safety Motorsport Australia Rally Championship (ARC), he had just been crowned champion for the fourth time in his illustrious career.
The year was 2018 and it was Rally Australia where Evans had steered his Skoda Fabia R5 to fifth place alongside co-driver Ben Searcy, securing enough points to take out the title.
Remarkably, that was only five ARC rounds ago due to bushfires cancelling Rally Australia in 2019 and COVID-19 putting the brakes on the 2020 Championship. Even during such tough times for the sport, and after some time away from competing, Evans’ love for the sport has remained.
However making a return to rallying isn’t quite as simple as it is in other sports, and there are still a few hurdles that Evans needs to jump through before he can officially put his hat in the ring and go for title number five in 2021.
“I am feeling really refreshed at the moment, and I truly believe I will enjoy rallying more now that I had a small break. Of course I am excited about a potential return, but also a little nervous,” Evans said.
“We have made some changes to our Mini Cooper AP4, which is our sole focus now. We are hoping that once we get the wheel turning, the improvements will give us a really good package and put us in good stead to attack 2021.”
Evans’ Mini Cooper AP4 debuted in the 2017 Netier National Capital Rally, and started Evans’ 2018 title campaign at the Eureka Rally, before swapping to the proven Fabia R5 for the remainder of the season. Though Evans is hopeful further development of the Mini during the ARC’s pause will make the iconic car successful in Australia.
“I don’t plan on joining the ARC without having driven the Mini properly, so we would like to do some extensive testing as there is still a lot to do on it. We will use this summer to really test its limits and see if we can get it to a consistent and competitive level.
“If we can get the car to what we think will be a front runner in the ARC, then securing a budget is going to be my next priority. We have a few ideas and we will hopefully get a few parties involved to cement our position in the ARC so we can run all rounds.
“Having lockdown this year has given us the ability to take our time with developing the car and reaching that first step. It’s kind of an open book at the moment, but I know I want to get back in the car and see what it can do.”
Being a stalwart of Australian rally, Evans is hopeful of competing next year not just because he misses the sport in general but because of what he believes the strength of the ARC will be in 2021.
Despite Evans being no easy beat himself, with he and his brother Simon clinching eight ARC titles between them, the 38-year-old admits there is quite a large pool of talent he is determined to beat.
“At the moment it’s still a work in progress. I am really excited about going out there and hopefully competing against all these guys,” Evans added.
“I honestly think next year, we’ll see a big step forward in the ARC because everyone has been in lockdown at one point throughout the year and everyone has missed out competing.
“I think what it’s going to do is make people want to go rallying again with no excuses because they can and they missed it.
“I am also really excited about it because we will get to see what the ARC is capable of in regard to competitors. I think we have a lot of good people in the sport who always do their best to compete.
“Our aim is to do the whole season next year. We will get to the first round and if we can be competitive, then that will be mission accomplished. But if it’s not realistic, then it would still be cool to do some rounds, mix it with the best, and prove we still have it.
“We still have a few months to do some testing and build a product where we can sell ourselves and get some parties to get onboard.
“At the end of the day, we’re a privateer team and we think we can mix it with the manufacturing teams.”