The long and winding road
- 24th September 2006, 2:01pm
After years of accidents, heartache and financial struggle, Evans has reached the top of the tree, claiming a title that, on ability alone, should have been his many years ago.
But sport, and motorsport in particular, is never that easy. In a sport where ability and natural talent are perhaps only 10% of the overall equation, Evans has risen from the depths of near financial ruin and deservedly stands on the top step of the podium.
His career has mirrored that of many talented young Australian rally drivers, with a couple of exceptions. Whereas many have shown the ability but have run out of money, for a long time Evans had the financial support of his father, Peter, who poured thousands of dollars of his own money into the spectacular youngster’s rallying program.
At the end of the 2003 season, when Simon had won Heats, yet had run out of money for his privately run Subaru, Peter had, understandably, said “enough is enough”. He had decided that Simon’s brother, Eli, deserved similar support, and for the 2004 season he would back his younger son in the one-make Subaru RS Challenge.
Fortunately for Simon, Toyota had taken note of his results, and with Rick Bates dropped from the factory Toyota squad, Evans was signed up for the 2004 season – a move that would be beneficial to both parties, and would, three years later, give Evans his first Australia Rally Championship title.
As a bonus in this rallying fairytale, Simon’s wife, Sue, has been the rock in the rallying relationship, and after many years of struggle beside her number one man, she is able to take half the credit for the success, having co-driven for Simon since the 1999 season.
HIGH SCHOOL SWEETHEARTS
Simon and Sue, who were born just three days apart, were high school sweethearts in Pakenham, just beyond the Melbourne suburban fringe, and married in 1995 at the age of 23. They had become friends through having adjoining lockers at school – although Sue says she hated him at first because he always dropped things on her head.
They also had a shared background in motorsport. Sue’s father raced speedway and Simon’s father was into rallying, so it was no surprise that the two 19 year-olds ventured into the sport in 1991 – both as drivers initially. Sue, however, crashed her Datsun on her very first event and, as Simon showed an ability honed from driving since the age of eight, she decided to sit back and support her man from the sidelines.
Simon progressed rapidly through club level to the state championship, driving a variety of cars, from Datsun 1600s to V8 Commodores and Nissan Pulsar GTiRs. Many Victorian rally fans will recall with excitement the sight of a carefree Simon Evans driving his Commodore at the Rally of Melbourne in the mid-nineties. With the big V8 in a full powerslide, Evans would have one arm out the window waving to the crowd, beginning the cult following that he has to this day.
The Nissan Pulsar too, was a weapon in Evans’ hands, although all too often the car would break and he would be forced to retire from events – usually while leading.
TOUGH TO BEAT
As a long-time opponent of Evans’, I have passed him many times on the side of the road – either crashed up against a bank or with the bonnet of his rally car up. He’s one of those drivers – perhaps in the Ari Vatanen ilk – who would either win or crash/retire in his early days.
His natural ability always shone through. In a round of the Victorian Championship in 1996 – the Goulburner Rally – Evans drove a jet-black Datsun 1600. Against the might of four-wheel drive cars he lay in fourth place at the end of the daylight division. Graeme Wise led in a Lancer Evo 1, Cody Crocker was second (Subaru Legacy), I was third (Mazda 323), with Evans fourth.
“Don’t make a mistake, I’m right on your tail,” Evans said with that beaming grin, as we entered the night division.
Sure enough, one stage later both Crocker and I had hit trees, and Evans cruised through to take second place in a car that, even then, should have been competing in classic rallies.
In 1995 he had stepped up to the ARC in the newly created Corolla Cup, created by Toyota to give young drivers a chance to shine in identical equipment. Evans was almost unbeatable in the one-make series, totally dominating the first two seasons. Toyota rewarded him with a drive in the Rally of Canberra in a Group N Celica GT Four prepared by Neal Bates Motorsport, which started a lasting friendship with Neal Bates and Coral Taylor.
EVANS AND EVANS
Sue became Simon’s co-driver in 1999 and – despite a fraught start when Sue was rendered speechless for the first four stages of their first event together – they enjoyed a giant-killing couple of seasons with an F2 VW Golf, winning their class in the 1999 ARC and the 2000 Asia-Pacific Championship.
“By having Sue in the car with me it will hopefully gain some extra media coverage for us,” Evans said at the time. Many also saw the pairing as a step forward in his career, as Sue’s calming influence would most likely ensure Simon’s driving became less “on the limit” and more purposeful. It proved to be the case.
With the loss of the VW factory support for 2001, Simon’s father, Peter, stepped in and provided the first of a series of Impreza WRXs that they ran privately, with backing from Hella. The Evans duo often topped the stage times, but bad luck prevented them from winning an ARC round until the 2003 NGK Rally of Melbourne – where they climbed the podium to wild acclaim from their home town fans.
After going through financial torture to keep competing, including selling the family home and Sue’s car, the Evans’ welcomed the move to the factory Toyota team. They made an immediate impact, winning their first event in WA and leading the championship until mid-season when Simon crashed heavily in Tasmania and broke his leg.
The 2006 season has seen a different approach again. Without the Subaru factory team competing, and with a Mitsubishi that has rarely finished both Heats of an ARC round, Evans has been matched against team boss Neal Bates in the race for the title. While the title was a four-way fight between Evans, Bates, Herridge and Pedder going into the final round, it was only the Toyota drivers who had a realistic chance of winning.
Evans’ driving in 2006 has been less flamboyant and his speed has been less impressive, but he has, for the first time, shown the consistency that wins championships. It is a title that is thoroughly deserved, and one that will long be celebrated by his team, his family, his supporters, and his fans all over the country.
20 QUESTIONS WITH SIMON AND SUE EVANS
Simon: Coming back last year just five weeks after breaking my leg in Tassie.
Sue: Winning Rally of Melbourne 2003.
Simon: Compete in Europe in WRC car.
Sue: To compete in the WRC.
Simon: Rally Queensland.
Sue: Rally of Melbourne.
Most daunting stage?
Simon: Watagan Road, NSW ARC.
Sue: Mineshaft - Rally of Canberra.
Simon: Driving for Toyota.
Sue: Able to compete in Toyota factory team.
Most respected/feared competitor?
Simon: Neal Bates and Chris Atkinson.
Sue: Coral Taylor and Glenn Macneall.
Scariest Rally Moment?
Simon: My first stage back after the crash in Tasmania because I didn’t know if I’d still be fast.
Sue: In Tasmania when we crashed and I saw Simon in so much pain.
Scariest non-rally moment?
Simon: When Jackson (our son) fell down a flight of stairs.
Sue: When Eden (our daughter) had a bad asthma attack and had to be rushed to hospital.
Pet hate on road?
Simon: People who don't indicate.
Sue: People who drive slowly in the right-hand lane.
Who do you most admire outside rallying?
Simon: Sydney novelist Matthew Reilly. I’ve read most of his books.
Sue: My sister Cindy, who is an officer in the Army. Lots of personal struggle and determination.
What would you change about rallying?
Simon: I’d ban turbos to bring back the sound of rallying.
Sue: Co-drivers having to get out of the car at control when it’s raining.
What scares you?
Simon: Going bald.
What annoys you?
Simon: People who repeat conversations over and over.
Sue: The sun in my eyes.
If you weren’t rally drivers you would be?
Simon: A footballer.
Sue: A full time football supporter (GO PIES!!!).
Your dream jobs?
Simon: Stunt driver.
Date of birth: Simon, June 17, 1972. Sue, June 20, 1972.
Live: Nar Nar Goon, Victoria
Children: Son Jackson, and daughter Eden.
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