Johan Kristoffersson fought his way to his fourth FIA World Rallycross Championship crown at the end of a sensational weekend of action at the Nürburgring today, snatching the title from the clutches of countryman Timmy Hansen as the 2021 campaign concluded in a dramatic dead-heat.
Leaving Lohéac in early September, Kristoffersson looked far from the champion in-waiting, sitting 28 points shy of the summit of the standings following a troubled opening three outings. Disqualified from Q1 in the Catalunya curtain-raiser due to a disconnected data-logger and falling victim to a double puncture on home soil at Höljes and transmission woes in France, despite subsequently winning in Latvia and Belgium, he nonetheless travelled to Germany still 17 points adrift of the top of the table.
A third triumph of the season yesterday – allied to a disqualification for Hansen – cut that deficit to a mere four points heading into today’s all-important decider in the second leg of World RX of Germany, and the pair were the class of the field once again in Q1. Hansen described his effort as ‘all in – a hell of a run’, with Kristoffersson quipping that his own performance had been ‘just a bit better than his (Hansen’s) hell of a run’ as he pipped his compatriot to the fastest time.
Hansen turned the tables in a breathless Q2, but a textbook launch in Q3 vaulted Kristoffersson into a lead he would not surrender and earned the Swede Top Qualifier honours – meaning only three now points separated the championship-chasing duo entering the semi-finals.
Kristoffersson won the first of them at a canter, but while Hansen did likewise in semi-final two, he was later penalised seven seconds for contact that tipped Niclas Grönholm into a half-spin. That reduced his advantage to a single point ahead of the final – and more significantly, meant that while Kristoffersson would be starting on pole position, Hansen would be at the rear of the grid.
At lights-out, it was Kevin Hansen in the sister Hansen World RX Team Peugeot 208 that got away best to seize the initiative from the outside line, with Kristoffersson and the elder Hansen jokering in unison on lap one. Kevin Hansen took his own joker next time around, retaining track position in front of the title duellists and promoting Grönholm to the lead.
As the Finn stretched his legs, the younger Hansen did his best to play the team game by backing Kristoffersson up towards his brother, but the long-time championship pace-setter had no answer for his KYB EKS JC rival and third place for the Audi driver at the chequered flag was enough to seal the spoils. Ending the campaign tied on points, Kristoffersson’s superior win count swung the balance in his favour by the very finest of margins.
Johan Kristoffersson, 2021 FIA World Rallycross Champion, said:
“What an absolutely unbelievable weekend – just crazy! We had a tough start to 2021, and from coming here 17 points behind, to then finish on equal points, it will take some time for this to all sink in, to be honest. To win the championship after starting out with a new team and in a new car this year is just fantastic. It means a lot.
“We were chasing our tail a little bit early in the season, and it’s been a real comeback since Riga. Everybody in this sport works so hard, and that sweet feeling of winning is what it’s all about. When I went back to the team awning after not being able to start the final in France, everybody was in tears. Today, I hope they’re all in tears again – only for a far happier reason...”
Having won the 2019 championship on countback, this time Hansen lost it in the same way as the trophy slipped narrowly through his fingers at the end of a campaign he had dominated for so long. There was no shame, however, in missing out to a driver as talented as Kristoffersson – the most successful in World RX history – and the Hansen brothers’ combined efforts were sufficient to secure a third Teams’ title for the family-run Hansen World RX Team.
Just like two years ago in South Africa, Grönholm’s triumph was somewhat overshadowed amid the duel for the crown, but the Finn produced a virtuoso drive at the end of a challenging weekend, during which he frequently found himself on the receiving end of contact.
Not only that, but with his third victory of the season, the GRX-SET ace climbed to third in the Drivers’ classification – writing his own little piece of history as the winner of the final race of the sport’s internal combustion-powered era.
Behind Grönholm, Kevin Hansen, Kristoffersson and Timmy Hansen, Guerlain Chicherit celebrated his World RX return in Unkorrupted’s Renault Mégane with a fifth-place finish ahead of Enzo Ide, who lost time to a first corner spin in the second KYB EKS JC Audi.
ELECTRIC DREAMS: DE RIDDER REIGNS IN RX2e
Guillaume De Ridder became the first-ever FIA electric rallycross champion in the FIA RX2e Championship at the Nürburgring today. Entering the final eight points clear of arch-rival Jesse Kallio, the Belgian out-dragged the Finn away from the start line and raced to his third win of the season, fending off late pressure from Kallio to seal the deal in style. A maiden podium finish for Pablo Suárez secured the Spaniard third spot in the overall points table.
Guillaume De Ridder, 2021 FIA RX2e Champion, said:
“I promised myself I wouldn’t cry, but the tension was so high that the tears just flowed. I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders this weekend; I had everything to lose, and Jesse was super-fast throughout – as he has been all season. He’s been a fantastic competitor. This is such an incredible feeling – I don’t think I fully realise yet what we’ve achieved this year.”
Possibly the only person sporting a bigger smile than De Ridder at the end of the weekend was Kristoffersson. Snow began falling on the podium as he collected his trophy, but the Swede didn’t care – he had just been crowned a four-time world champion.
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1. Niclas GRÖNHOLM (FIN) GRX-SET World RX Team 6 laps
2. Kevin HANSEN (SWE) Hansen World RX Team +4.031s
3. Johan KRISTOFFERSSON (SWE) KYB EKS JC +4.259s
4. Timmy HANSEN (SWE) Hansen World RX Team +5.480s
5. Guerlain CHICHERIT (FRA) Unkorrupted +8.759s
6. Enzo IDE (BEL) KYB EKS JC +16.091s
Full results can be found here