This year's Rally Germany was notable for a huge scrap for the lead that was settled on the final stage – but I was just as taken by what was happening a bit further back.
In the WRC2 division – the championship’s second tier for slightly less powerful cars – there was a huge fight between Robert Kubica and Elfyn Evans. It was a bit surreal: as editor of Motorsport News, I’ve been involved in reporting on and covering both of them for years, but it was hard to comprehend reporting on them both at the same time.
Kubica is the Formula One race winner who was poised to become a star of the sport until he was seriously injured in a huge accident on a rally early in February 2011. Evans, meanwhile, is a garage owner’s son from Dolgellau in mid Wales.
Before their WRC2 battles this year, Kubica and Evans had previously existed in two different worlds, from two spectrums of the sport so far apart they were barely related. Now their futures are entwined: both will drive Ford Fiesta WRCs run by the top M-Sport team in next year’s WRC. And while both have taken very different routes to the top level of rallying, both fully deserve their chance.
Recovering from his crash, Kubica was keen to prove his injuries wouldn’t keep him out of motorsport, and he chose to do so in rallying. He made his competitive return in September 2012 on a club rally in Italy. He won.
Such performances attracted the interest of some of rallying’s top teams, and this year he has driven a Lotos-backed Citroen DS3 RRC, fitted with a special hydraulic gearshift due to his injured arm, in WRC2 and European Rally Championship events. He amazed in WRC2, winning five events to claim the championship with ease. Amusingly, he was pretty non-plussed after winning the crown: it was a means to an end for him, one step towards a greater goal.
Kubica made his F1 debut with BMW in 2006. Contrast this: that’s the same year Evans started rallying... in a one-litre Nissan Micra. From that low-key start, he quickly developed into one of Britain’s best rallying prospects. Of course, it helped that his father, Gwyndaf Evans, is a former British Rally champion. But Elfyn wasn’t just gifted a career: his dad made him work for it.
Evans really made his name in driving a front-wheel-drive 1600cc Ford Fiestas R2 in the British championship. He learned how to extract the maximum pace from the production-based cars, and that meant he was ready to capitalise when given the chance to step up. He moved up to international level in 2012, winning the WRC Academy, a one-make series run by M-Sport for Fiesta R2s.
The prize for that was a handful of rallies this year in WRC2, working to develop M-Sport’s new Fiesta R5 car. He impressed the team with his maturity and development skills, and impressed further when he was handed a last minute in a Fiesta WRC in Italy. On his first outing at that level, he finished sixth.
It was in the latter part of the year that Evans was really able to push in the Fiesta R5, eventually winning the finale at home in Britain. His battles in Germany and elsewhere with Kubica really proved his pace. And the comparison I never thought I'd be making had reflected well on them both.
The comparisons will continue next year, when both contest their first full seasons in World Rally Cars. They will face different pressure, of course - as an ex-F1 man Kubica will be in the media glare, while Evans will have to prove why he deserved the chance hundreds of young drivers fought for. But on the form of 2013, both look capable of having long, successful careers in rallying.