Niclas Grönholm was left to reflect upon a case of ‘what might have been’ in the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Lohéac last weekend (3-5 September), as the GRX-SET World RX Team star fought his way back from a slow semi-final start to reach the bottom step of the podium in France.
Having found himself out-of-luck in the opening two rounds of the 2021 campaign at Catalunya and Höljes – being forced off-track at the beginning of the semi-final in Spain and missing out on the final in Sweden after picking up a penalty for hitting a course marker following contact with Peter Hedström – Grönholm headed to Brittany determined to kick-start his title bid.
The Finn duly topped the timesheets courtesy of an excellent run in Q1, with further top three performances in Q2 and Q4 earning him second place in the intermediate classification behind the wheel of his Hyundai i20.
A slow start from pole position in his semi-final left Grönholm facing an uphill battle to progress through to the final, but a valiant effort saw him take the chequered flag third to narrowly make the cut. From the back of the grid, the 25-year-old then deployed a late joker strategy to haul himself onto the rostrum in the last race of the weekend.
“We have to be happy with a podium, but to be honest I’m a bit disappointed,” he candidly acknowledged. “I felt we were up there with the top guys pace-wise after an up-and-down first two rounds. This time, we were on it right from Q1 and although we maybe made some bad choices in Q2 and Q3, after that we found a good set-up in the car and I was comfortable and able to push.
“I really thought we could go all the way, but unfortunately the start in the semi-final ruined the weekend. You need a good grid position in the final if you want to win, without having to rely upon any silly mistakes or crashes ahead. After the start position I had in the final, I think we have to be happy, but I’m here to win. I’m looking forward to the next event in Riga. We have the pace in the car, we just need a little bit of luck and the results will come.”
The Latvian double-header will take place over the weekend of 18/19 September, and GRX-SET Team Principal Jussi Pinomäki is hopeful that the squad can finally fulfil its potential around the challenging Biķernieki trase.
“A podium is a podium and that is always a good finish in any championship, especially with the level we have at the front in World RX,” he said, “but when you have the opportunity to win and it gets away from you, it doesn’t taste as good as it could.
“We had a much better weekend with Niclas than in the first two rounds and the pace was satisfying, but we have a few areas that we need to work on for the next races. We’re looking forward to Riga and to improving upon what we did in France.”