Thu 02 Feb 2023

Andersson reflects on ‘rollercoaster ride’ of ground-breaking rookie season

Klara Andersson says ‘trusting the process’ was key to her improvement during her rookie season in the FIA World Rallycross Championship last year, describing herself as ‘much stronger’ for having been thrown in at the deep end – and rising to the surface.

Klara Andersson says ‘trusting the process’ was key to her improvement during her rookie season in the FIA World Rallycross Championship last year, describing herself as ‘much stronger’ for having been thrown in at the deep end – and rising to the surface.

Andersson arrived on the World RX scene in 2022 with a Swedish Championship title in her pocket, but minimal experience outside of her home country – two prior outings in the FIA RX2e Championship the sum total of her time spent competing on the international stage.

Recruited by the new Construction Equipment Dealer Team to race alongside Niclas Grönholm, there were some who wondered whether the young Swede was ready to take such a sizeable leap, having only been active in rallycross since 2018. Plenty of hype, the critics said, but what about the substance behind the headlines? They were swiftly silenced.

In the curtain-raising contest in Hell in August, Andersson immediately answered the questions about whether she would sink or swim at the highest level – making it through to the final on her World RX debut in the high-calibre field and going on to finish fourth, one place ahead of established front-runner Grönholm.

“Some people thought I was maybe taking too big a step,” she acknowledges. “For me, too, going from the Swedish National Championship to rallycross’ very top category in World RX, it was hard to know what to expect to begin with. It’s something special to race at the pinnacle of the sport, and not something that every driver gets to do so I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity by CE Dealer Team.

“The first thing I had to really focus on was learning the basics of the car and getting used to the extra speed. I’d never driven anything so fast before. I still remember shaking as I climbed out of the cockpit following my first heat race in Norway, after going into the first corner at such speed and surrounded by other cars. I think that weekend was the most emotional moment of the season for me, because it went so much better than I had ever dared hope...”

Vital to Andersson’s progress over the course of the campaign was the group of people around her, from Team Manager Jussi Pinomäki to fellow former competitors Reinis Nitišs and Krisztián Szabó and race engineer Janne Ljungberg, each of whom she credits with playing a major role in her World RX apprenticeship.

“Motorsport is so much about having confidence in yourself and trust in your car and team,” she affirms. “Previously, it had only really been me and my dad, so it was great to be working with such a professional team, looking over the data with the engineers and driver coaches and having so much support, and I learnt so much from them all.

“To have my sister (former Euro RX TouringCar event-winner, Magda Andersson) with me at most races was also nice, being able to speak to somebody who had been there and done it before and understands what it’s like. She gave me some good advice, and stressed how essential it is to make sure you keep some time for yourself to recharge your batteries.

“There are a lot of commitments outside of the actual racing, from media to sponsors to fans, and it’s important not to let that affect your energy in the car. Time management is a key factor, and you have to accept that you can’t always please everybody. Sometimes I had to take a mental step back, because at the end of the day, I’m there to get the job done out on-track.”

Getting the job done was something Andersson increasingly did as the season advanced. A podium finish in Portugal was a watershed moment for the 22-year-old, but was arguably eclipsed by her performance at the Nürburgring in November. After outpacing Kevin Hansen in heat three, she then came desperately close to defeating multiple world champion Johan Kristoffersson in the pair’s progression race. Had she jokered just one lap earlier, she would almost certainly have won.

“It was a real rollercoaster ride from the first shakedown in Norway to the last race in Germany,” she reflects. “Overall, I’m very pleased – I feel like I took a massive step forward from the beginning to the end of the season.

“It was obviously very special to write a bit of history with the podium in Portugal, but even more so to be part of a one-three finish for the team after our challenging start to the season. To be honest, the event where I was most proud of my performance was Germany – I think that was my most complete race weekend. To be fighting directly against Johan and Kevin was huge for me.”

Andersson explains that going back to the two circuits she already knew – the Nürburgring and Spa-Francorchamps – meant she could attack on the front foot from the outset, as opposed to the other tracks where she needed to learn as she went along, with no in-season testing permitted in World RX and limited practice time. Settling in slowly before starting to push is a skill that she describes as crucial to her development.

“It’s easy to get over-excited when you’re in a competitive environment – you instinctively want to go out there and be quick straightaway, but sometimes you need to trust the process,” she reasons. “Niclas, Johan, Ole Christian [Veiby] and the Hansens have all been at this level for a while, so I had to learn to allow myself to take the time, rein it back in a bit and just approach things step-by-step. That’s when the results start to come more quickly.

“Niclas is very fast, so when I got close to him or even matched him, I knew I was doing a good job and that’s really motivating. In motorsport, it’s always difficult to compare yourself against drivers in different cars and teams – your team-mate is your only direct benchmark – and it was brilliant to be able to work with and learn from Niclas.

“He’s a great guy – actually very funny and we had a good relationship all year both on and off-track. He’s been part of this circus for a long time now and a consistent title contender in World RX in recent years, and while we are clearly at very different stages of our careers, we both want the same thing – to drive the team forward and to succeed.

“I love driving cars – it’s where I’m most at home – and I feel I really grew last season, both as a driver and as a person. It was an important year for me to show that I properly belong at this level, and I feel much stronger now for all the experience I gained.”

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