Although he ultimately found himself pipped to the chequered flag by Niclas Grönholm, FIA World Rallycross Championship leader Timmy Hansen has described last weekend’s pulsating final at Cooper Tires World RX of Montalegre (16-17 October) as ‘a brilliant race’ and the very essence of the dual-surface discipline.
Hansen was unquestionably the driver to beat in Portugal, setting the pace in three of the four qualifying sessions to comfortably top the intermediate standings before winning the first semi-final to secure pole position for the all-important final.
After narrowly fending off arch-rival and three-time world champion Johan Kristoffersson at the start, Hansen then spent the opening half of the race looking in his rear-view mirrors as his countryman’s KYB EKS JC Audi S1 crawled all over the back of the Peugeot 208.
Matters came to a head at mid-distance, when a failed passing attempt by Kristoffersson allowed Kevin Hansen in the sister Peugeot to get a slingshot up the inside of the Audi. The elder Swede ran out of room and bounced spectacularly across the gravel trap – in so doing, incurring a five-second track marker penalty that dropped him to sixth in the overall classification.
The tussle between the trio similarly cost Timmy Hansen, as it allowed early joker Grönholm to close in and snatch the lead on the last lap – but despite missing out on a third victory of the season at the end of a weekend that he had largely dominated, the 2019 title-winner was clearly thrilled to have been involved in such a breathtaking battle.
“That was a really enjoyable final – proper rallycross the way it should be,” Hansen enthused. “Overall, it was a fantastic weekend for me. Qualifying went really well, and while the results say I won plenty of sessions, every one of those sessions was very close. The semi-final was a tough race with Kevin, decided purely on pace, and the fight in the final was why we all love this sport.
“Everybody here is performing at a very high level, and that’s what generates the best races. Of course I would have liked to win, but it was a good battle – it felt like Johan was everywhere for the first few laps. Montalegre isn’t an easy place to keep the door closed, because you spend so much time sideways and that opens the door naturally. It’s difficult to stay in front, and I felt the pressure at every corner.
“Towards the end, I had a little bit of a gap and could push again, but by then, Niclas had made up too much time. I did everything I could, but he was a deserving winner and it was a brilliant race. That’s why we all do this.”
The 2021 World RX campaign will conclude with an eagerly-anticipated double-header finale at the Nürburgring’s new rallycross track in Germany on 27/28 November, where the world champion will be officially crowned.