When the final chequered flag fell at the Nürburgring just over a week ago (13 November), Niclas Grönholm looked to have been pipped to a top three spot in the title standings by a single point – only for a disqualification for Kevin Hansen to turn the tables and secure the Finn third in the classification for the second consecutive campaign.
It has been a challenging season for Grönholm and Construction Equipment Dealer Team in the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2022, peppered by the highlight of a lone victory in Portugal – after on-the-road winner Johan Kristoffersson was penalised for contact.
The Finn has been there-or-thereabouts throughout, if never quite on the outright pace as the new team has inevitably taken some time to settle into its stride at the highest level, and World RX of Germany was a similar story.
Fourth-fastest in the single-lap SuperPole session, Grönholm replicated that result in heat one, when he was unable to take the fight to Kristoffersson and Timmy Hansen ahead. He then dropped down the order after grinding to a halt out on-track in heat two, with the fifth-quickest time in heat three leaving him just sixth in the intermediate ranking.
Despite finding himself forced wide at the start of his progression race the next day, the 26-year-old fought back to overhaul Ole Christian Veiby for second, but he had no answer for Kristoffersson and the younger Hansen brother at the semi-final stage – seemingly leaving him out of the all-important final and dashing his hopes of holding onto a top three championship finish.
With the bigger picture in mind, though, CE Dealer Team elected to pull team-mate Klara Andersson out of the final to give Grönholm another chance. Taking full advantage of the unexpected opportunity, he threw his car boldly around the outside of turns two and three at the start to climb to second.
Ultimately, the Kauniainen native didn’t quite have the legs to hold off Kevin Hansen, which enabled the Swede to steal third in the points table by the narrowest of margins – a role reversal of what had happened at the same circuit 12 months earlier. When Hansen was subsequently disqualified due to a technical infringement, however, Grönholm was the beneficiary.
“Firstly, I want to thank my team-mate for letting me take her place in the final to fight for a top three finish in the championship,” he reflected, after tallying the equal second-highest score over the latter half of the campaign. “To claim third in the championship with CE Dealer Team feels amazing, and I am happy for everyone in the team as well as our partners who have worked so hard for this.
“It has been a promising, but also challenging season with the new all-electric cars. Now we have a lot of data and experience to work with to improve both the driving and the cars to fight even higher up in the championship next year.”
“To finish our first historic season with a medal in the championship for Niclas feels rewarding,” echoed Team Manager, Jussi Pinomäki. “This is thanks to a solid effort from everyone in the team, who along with our partners have worked hard all season. It was a tough call to withdraw Klara from the final after her strong performances over the weekend, but she showed great team spirit to let Niclas fight for a top three championship finish.
“We look back on a promising first season for the team at the top level of World Rallycross, with strong results from both drivers. Now the work starts to come back even stronger next year, to continue our groundbreaking journey and challenge the very best in the world.”