WE all know that endorsements from sports stars and celebrities need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
It’s not rocket science. If they’re paid by a company, they are never going to say anything bad about it.
For example, have you ever heard Lewis Hamilton poo-poo Mercedes? No. And you never will while he drives for them.
Which is what makes rally ace Elfyn Evans’ praise for the Toyota GR Yaris much more credible.
He could have waited for Toyota to give him one after scoring two wins and finishing runner-up to his Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate in last year’s World Rally Championship.
But he’s that taken by it, he’s ready to put his hand in his pocket to buy one.
Elfyn said: “I already had my eye on one but when I drove it, I said, ‘I don’t need to be given one, I’ll buy one’ because it’s a really good car.
“I’m actually trying to buy one at the moment — but left-hand drive, because all rally cars are left-hand drive.”
That might be just as well because while Eflyn’s company car — a Hilux pick-up truck — is absolutely perfect for navigating the hills at home in North West Wales, it came with a “WRC” vanity plate.
And knowing Elfyn as I do, I doubt that’s his thing.
He said: “It’s a great truck that really suits my lifestyle. I asked for a pick-up because I can use it as a car, I can fit a couple of child seats in it, but it’s also perfect for training. I can just throw the mountain bike in the back and go. It’s very handy.”
Elfyn runs an ultra-limited-edition Invincible 50, one of 50 tricked up by Arctic Trucks to mark half a century of the bombproof 4×4.
As well as everything black, it features Bilstein performance suspension, chunky all-terrain tyres and a double-hoop sports bar with LED roof lights.
Elfyn said: “It looks the part, it has lots of ground clearance and you are definitely not going to miss anything with those lights.”
As for the GR Yaris, I’ve already told you how special that car is.
It is the new darling of performance-car fans: Small, light, trick suspension, four-wheel drive, limited-slip differentials on both axles and the most powerful three-cylinder engine in any production car in the world. All for £269 a month. Boom. Mind blown.
Elfyn is of the same opinion. He said: “It’s a really good, fun car to drive. Obviously it’s come off the back of our WRC programme. It’s effectively an homologation special to maximise the platform for us to build a World Rally car — and it’s turned into a fantastic road car.
“I think the power-to-weight ratio is one of the really key aspects of what makes it so exciting. It’s very rare to get such a small four-wheel drive car yet still they managed to make it very nimble.
Key facts: TOYOTA HILUX INVINCIBLE 50
Price: £39,995 inc VAT
Engine: 2.4-litre turbo diesel
Power: 150hp, 400Nm
0-62mph: 12.8 secs
Top speed: 106mph
‘REALISTIC AND RAW’
“Whereas other hot hatches are derived from the standard car — they uprate the suspension and the engine and other things to arrive at a performance hot hatch — this car was born to be a performance hot hatch and therefore you end up with a much more realistic and raw experience.
“The transmission and everything work much more closely to the feeling you would get from a rally car.”
In case you are wondering, the spectacular backdrop in these photos is Elfyn’s home turf near Dolgellau. Not a bad place for anyone to recharge or train, let alone a pro athlete.
Elfyn said: “I’m really lucky to have this sort of terrain on my doorstep. At this time of year it can be a bit testing, training in the rain and cold. But on a sunny day you won’t beat it anywhere in the world.
“I get to visit a lot of nice places doing the job I do but home is home. You appreciate it more as you get older. With the mountains and my bikes, it’s perfect. Ten to 15 minutes and you’re at the beach.”
I’d say nearer ten with Elfyn driving.
Key facts: TOYOTA GR YARIS
Engine: 1.6-litre 3-cylinder turbo petrol
Power: 260hp, 360Nm
0-62mph: 5.5 secs
Top speed: 143mph
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ELFYN had a miserable end to 2020. A last-round crash cost him the World Rally title, he caught Covid, and then lockdown scuppered his wedding to fiancée Donna.
But now the Welshman has reset and is fired up for an assault on the 2021 world crown . . . starting with today’s Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Feeling confident for Monte?
We have tested the new Pirelli control tyres and the feeling in the car was good, so yes, but we’ll have to wait until the rally to see how fast we are. The only predictable thing about the Monte is how unpredictable it is, especially when it’s dark and there’s snow and ice about. But it would be a special one to win.
Your biggest rival is also your teammate – Sebastien Ogier, the seven-time world champ. Do you have equal status at Toyota?
We get the same equipment, the same testing and the same opportunity to win. He’s brilliant to have as a team-mate. We drive each other forward.
How disappointing is it to see Wales Rally GB lose its WRC spot?
It’s a big blow to the area. There is a lot of passion for the rally here. There is still hope we can have a British round in Northern Ireland in 2022, so fingers crossed for that. But I think the chances of it coming back to Wales are gone for a good few years now.
That must make your 2017 win in Wales even more special.
It does but it was something I wanted to repeat. If we’d had a shot at it, like we were meant to last year with the Yaris, it would have been interesting. The car would have suited Rally GB conditions but it’s not to be now.
Your dad Gwyndaf won the 1996 British Rally Championship in a Ford Escort RS2000. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
I obviously grew up around rallying and it’s easy to look back now and think, “Yeah, it was inevitable that it was going to happen”. But the reality was that for everything to go your way, to gain a drive, or turn professional, is slim. Not only do you have to prove yourself in many aspects of the sport, you also have to be in the right place at the right time and have a bit of luck.
Now Gwyndaf is part of your back-up team?
It’s a business decision, not an emotional one. He’s there because I feel he can do the best job for me to be able to perform.
You spend a lot of time on two wheels to keep your fitness up. What bikes do you have?
I’ve just got a Canyon Spectral trail bike and a Canyon Ultimate for the roads. I tried to come down The Red Bull Hardline during the first lockdown but I had to walk half of it. It’s quite extreme! I also have an enduro bike and a trials bike but motorbiking is purely a bit of fun.
Will you stay in Wales?
Yes. I’d like our children to grow up to be able to speak Welsh and to have a similar upbringing to me, out in the countryside, able to ride your bike anywhere. It’s a nice place to be.
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