27 Nov KRISTOFFERSSON TOPS RECORD SEASON WITH A WIN AT KILLARNEY
Johan Kristoffersson wrapped up his record-breaking World Rallycross season with a dominant win at the Gumtree World Rallycross of South Africa on 25 November at the Killarney International Raceway.
Thousands of enthusiastic spectators were treated to two days of non-stop drama and excitement in hot and blustery conditions, with spins, crashes rolls, split-second finishes, heartbreaking car failures and enough shredded fibreglass scattered around the purpose-built 1.07 kilometre circuit to build a racing yacht!
It was PRSX Volkswagen Polo R driver Kristoffersson’s 11th win of the 12-round season (the only other driver to win a round in 2018 was veteran Sebastien Loeb, at Riga in Latvia) and he had already clinched his second consecutive World Rallycross title before arriving in Cape Town.
But even that arrival was not without drama; the shipping of the team’s cars and equipment from Europe was delayed because the containers were found to contain hazardous materials, and when the ship finally arrived it could not dock in Cape Town for several days due to the high winds for which the city is famous at this time of year. The team missed Friday’s shakedown completely and the cars ran for the first time in the first free practice on Saturday morning.
More drama followed as Loeb set the quickest time in the first Qualifying round, just 0.024s ahead of Peugeot Total team-mate Timmy Hansen and EKS Audi’s Andreas Bakkerud. Kristoffersson, however, spun out on lap two of his race, finishing a distant fourth and stone last overall.
Then he struck back with the fastest time of the day in the second round of qualifiers, with his team leader Petter Solberg second fastest after winning the fourth qualifier.
“I didn’t have the best start,” said Loeb afterwards. “Petter had a magic start and he took the lead in the first corner.
“I struggled a bit in the traffic and then I was in the dust but overall I’m still at the top so it’s a good start to the weekend.”
Loeb had indeed done enough to lead the overnight standings on 88 points, with Solberg and Timmy Hansen tied for second on 85 – but Kristoffersson was back up to sixth with 78 points and taking no prisoners.
He put in an almost perfect run in the last heat of Sunday morning’s third round of Qualifying races, leading all four laps and beating Loeb’s time to post the quickest performance in Q3. Solberg, in the same race as his team-mate, was second into Turn 1 but was passed around the outside by Timmy Hansen and was fourth quickest after the session, behind Kristoffersson, Loeb and Hansen.
That moved Kristoffersson up to second in the overall standings, going into the final round, which he aced with another quickest time, beating Loeb by the narrowest of margins to claim TQ (top qualifier), with Loeb’s team-mate Timmy Hansen and Kristoffersson’s team boss Solberg just behind in third and fourth respectively.
The semi’s and finals, however, weren’t about times but about head-to-head racing. Kristoffersson took the first semi-final, leading home the Hansen brothers, Timmy and Kevin, while Andreas Bakkerud, locked in battle with his EKS Audi team-mate Matthias Eckstrom for the runner-up spot in the series, suffered a heart-breaking mechanical failure on lap four and failed to finish.
Solberg won the second semi in fine style, ahead of Loeb and Eckstrom, who was now assured of second overall in the championship, to set up a monster final between Volkswagen, Audi and Peugeot.
The racing gods were having none of that, however; Solberg, at 44 the second-oldest driver in the series (Loeb, also 44, is eight months older) won the Monster Energy Supercharge Award for having the fastest reaction time at the start of the final, only to spin out on lap two – right into the path of Timmy Hansen’s Peugeot.
The impact took both out, leaving Kristoffersson to romp away to his 11th win of the season, 2.7 seconds ahead of Eckstrom, with Loeb less than a second further adrift and Kevin Hansen – who was six years old when Loeb won the first of his nine consecutive World Rally Championships in 2004 – bringing up the rear, 6.23s off the pace.
“I have to say today is quite emotional,” admitted Kristoffersson afterwards. “It’s been a fantastic year for me, really the world championship title sinks in a little bit more now.”
Ekstrom was pleased to finish his year on the podium.
“We actually came to Cape Town to win the race. We were fast throughout the entire weekend, but somehow didn’t get into the right rhythm,” he said. “In the final things finally fell into place. Second is a fantastic result and a good end to a long season, in which Johan was always a small step ahead.”
Typically laconic, Loeb said: “The car was good here, we improved it all year and since the middle of the season we have changed a lot of things. We tried to improve some details and here in the last race were really competitive. I had a good weekend and finally to be third overall, I’m happy.”
Ben Philip-Gundersen won the final round of the RX2 International Series ahead of fellow Norwegian Sondre Evjen and Latvia’s Vasily Gryazin. Oliver Eriksson from Sweden went into the final round locked in a battle with Belgian Guillaume De-Ridder for the championship but clinched the one-make series by qualifying for the final.
Ironically, the newly-crowned champion was leading the final when his car stopped on lap two with what were euphemistically described as ‘technical issues’ and was classified sixth, behind William Nilsson of Sweden and Finland’s Sami-Matti Trogen.
For more information go to http://www.fiaworldrallycross.com/