Friday | 13 Jan 2023

Andersson showed she belongs at highest level, says championship-winning engineer

With a podium finish, heat race win, four qualifications for the final and a Johan Kristoffersson-rivalling progression race performance at the Nürburgring, Klara Andersson proved beyond doubt that she deserves her place in the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2022 – that is the opinion of her race engineer and spotter last year, Janne Ljungberg.

With a podium finish, heat race win, four qualifications for the final and a Johan Kristoffersson-rivalling progression race performance at the Nürburgring, Klara Andersson proved beyond doubt that she deserves her place in the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2022 – that is the opinion of her race engineer and spotter last year, Janne Ljungberg.

Swedish Rallycross Champion in the 2150 category in 2021 – only her fourth season of car racing – Andersson subsequently made her debut on the World RX package in the supporting FIA RX2e Championship at Spa-Francorchamps and the Nürburgring, turning heads with a brace of quick and confident displays.

That served as some indication of her potential, but still, going head-to-head with rivals of the calibre of Kristoffersson, the Hansen brothers, Ole Christian Veiby and her own Construction Equipment Dealer Team stablemate Niclas Grönholm in World RX meant even advancing to the final in her rookie campaign would be a tall order indeed.  

That, though, is exactly what the Swede did in the curtain-raising round in Norway, pipping Grönholm to fourth place to announce her arrival in some style. While catapulting her straight into the headlines, however, Ljungberg argues that the result was in hindsight something of a double-edged sword.

“Finishing fourth on her debut was great, but it also possibly raised expectations unrealistically,” he explains. “World RX obviously represented a big step-up from what Klara had done before, with a lot of new things to take in – and while in previous seasons, she would have benefitted from more testing to get to grips with everything, with just a couple of days in the car before Hell, she was really thrown in at the deep end.

“She had a lot to learn both on and off-track, with not only the racing but also in terms of media, sponsor and fan commitments, which don’t allow drivers much downtime at race weekends – especially the double-headers, which are pretty intense. It seemed like there was always somebody wanting her attention. That clearly all needs to be done, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy to manage.

“She also had to get used to most of the tracks for the first time, and consequently picked up speed over the course of weekends. That meant she was usually at a disadvantage in the SuperPole sessions when you only get one lap to set a fast time, but that will come with experience. It’s easy to forget how much experience the other guys have. Niclas is only 26, but he’s done seven full seasons now in World RX. It takes time to build up to that level.”

Former EKS RX Technical Director Ljungberg has worked with some of the very best in the business – winning both the Drivers’ and Teams’ FIA World Rallycross Championship titles with Mattias Ekström in 2016 – and having now spent a season at Andersson’s side, he is confident the 22-year-old is the real deal.

After reaching the rostrum in only her fifth start at the highest level at Montalegre – making history in the process – she then excelled at the Nürburgring, saving her best until last as she put everything she had learned during the campaign to good use, coming within a whisker of pipping five-time title-holder Kristoffersson to victory in the pair’s progression race.

While she played the team game by ceding her spot in the final to Grönholm, the weekend offered a glimpse of the kind of form that Andersson is ultimately capable of.

“I honestly don’t think we could have asked much more of her for her first year,” Ljungberg adds. “Although it wasn’t the largest grid we have seen in World RX, the quality was really high, and while she still evidently has more to learn – let’s be honest, we are all learning every day, that’s nothing new – she tackles everything with a positive attitude and enthusiastic approach.

“She was never far away from Niclas’ pace – and we all know how quick Niclas is – and the podium finish in Portugal gave her a real confidence boost. The whole team was pleased to see her up there, because she had worked so hard for it. She knows she’s here to gain experience at this stage, but at the same time, she’s fiercely competitive and at the end of the day – like everybody else out there – she wants to win.”