KRISTOFFERSSON BENEFITS FROM HANSEN HEARTBREAK IN BELGIUM
Johan Kristoffersson extended his advantage in the chase for the FIA World Rallycross Championship crown in round six of the 2022 campaign at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday, as the Swede sped to the top step of the podium for the 32nd time in his extraordinary career.
After securing his customary position at the head of the classification in the single-lap SuperPole shootout, Kristoffersson then unusually didn’t set the pace in any of the subsequent sessions, going third-fastest in both heat one and heat two, second in his progression race and third in the semi-final.
That all mattered little, however, when the final came around, as from fourth on the single-file grid, the defending world champion cut neatly to the inside entering Turn One while Niclas Grönholm and Kevin Hansen focussed on fending each other off, to slot into second behind pole-sitter Timmy Hansen.
Into the Raidillon hairpin for the first time, a chain reaction saw Kristoffersson pushed into the back of Hansen, sending the latter into a spin, with the Peugeot subsequently collected by the Construction Equipment Dealer Team car of Grönholm – who was ultimately found guilty of causing the concertina effect.
That left Kristoffersson out front from young KMS team-mate Gustav Bergström, and in a consummate performance, he went on to take the chequered flag almost five seconds clear of his closest pursuer.
Second position went the way of Kevin Hansen, who was delayed by the Raidillon mêlée but displayed good speed on another day of what might have been for Hansen World RX Team, as he won his progression race and pipped Kristoffersson to second at the semi-final stage.
Bergström – who wasn’t even due to take part in the final until a disqualification catapulted him onto the grid – wound up third to reach the World RX rostrum for the first time in only his sixth start at the international pinnacle of the sport.
Grönholm crossed the finish line fourth, but a five-second penalty for the incident at the hairpin relegated him to fifth behind the frustrated Timmy Hansen, who for much of the day had looked like he was set to belatedly open his winning account for the year.
Klara Andersson was on the pace for CE Dealer Team at the track where she made her debut on the World Championship package last year in RX2e, but a technical problem in heat two ruled her out of the progression stage and she was subsequently disqualified from the semi-final after being deemed at fault for a first corner collision with Timmy Hansen, Bergström and René Münnich.
Ole Christian Veiby’s stellar podium run came to an end as he found himself afflicted by myriad issues in his Volkswagen RX1e – causing him to miss out on the final for the first time in 2022 – but the Norwegian will be primed to fight back on the second day of the Belgian double-header tomorrow.
“We started on a high and ended on a high,” reflected Kristoffersson, after bookending his day in first place. “In-between, it was quite tricky. We didn’t get the best start in heat one, and from there we always seemed to be fighting from behind and with the lap times so tight, we didn’t quite have enough pace to make the difference with the joker strategy.
“I feel sorry for Timmy – he was in a winning position in the final and really didn’t deserve that. Going up to the hairpin, there was a bit of a train from behind and he got spun round. It wasn’t his day. It turned out to be my day, but obviously it’s a bit bittersweet. Most of all, I’m happy for Gustav – to finish on the podium so early in his World RX career is fantastic. Big congratulations to him.”
There is a three-way tie at the summit of the standings in the FIA RX2e Championship overnight between Nils Andersson, Isak Sjökvist and Patrick O’Donovan. The two Swedes topped a heat apiece, with O’Donovan fast and feisty to go second-quickest in both sessions. Championship leader Viktor Vranckx sits fourth, admitting to making ‘two big mistakes’ in heat one as he swiped the wall in the joker – but the home hero will be fired-up to bounce back tomorrow.
Despite accusing himself of ‘not really pushing hard enough’, recently-crowned FIA European Rallycross Champion Anton Marklund leads the way in Euro RX1, with Montalegre winner Enzo Ide just ahead of arch-rival Jānis Baumanis in the duel for the championship runner-up spoils.