From dust to mud, the weather in third and fourth rounds of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy, at the CapitalBox World RX of Finland, at the weekend was determined to be an influence on the outcome.
In the dusty conditions on the Saturday, Johan Kristofferson was sublime, winning every session to extend his Drivers’ Championship lead.
Kristoffersson Motorsport’s driver was TQ (top qualifier) in the Intermediate Classification, won semi-final one and the final to secure his second win of the season – following victory in round on at Holjes in Sweden last weekend.
Finland’s Juha Rytkonen was a star performer, racing a Hyundai i20 Supercar for the GRX SET team. He was fourth in qualifying, won semi-final two and finished second in the final, one place ahead of Sweden’s Timmy Hansen, the reigning World RX Drivers’ Champion fighting back from a difficult opening to the season a week ago.
Hansen didn’t have the pace to match Kristoffersson or Rytkonen at the front of the six-lap final on the Kouvola circuit, but claimed the final podium position in a race for the finish line with Finnish star Niclas Gronholm. Competing at home for GRX Taneco, Gronholm finished fourth. Germany’s Timo Scheider, the ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport driver, was fifth and Team Hansen’s Kevin Hansen, from Sweden, made the final following an opportunistic overtake on lap one of the semi-final two and finished the final sixth.
“The final was very, very good. I had a very good start, like I had all day and from there on, the track was similar to how it was in the semi-final, so we could adapt a bit and do some small changes for the final which worked out well. I have to thank the team today, we did a lot of work and put a lot of effort into this weekend, especially having only one car on a new track to learn. It’s been quite tricky but it feels very nice to win practice, Q1, Q2, Q3, my semi-final and final today,” said Kristofferson.
Rytkonen’s second place marked the first podium of the season for a Gronholm RX Hyundai i20. “I’m really happy. The team is very, very good. I did not expect this at all. I just kept pushing in the final, I had Topi [Toomas Heikkinen] on the radio giving me information and he is very good, that helps a lot,” said Rytkonen.
Despite not making it into the final in round three, Mattias Ekstrom remains second in the Drivers’ standings, with the Hansen brothers tied in third.
Timmy Hansen was delighted to his first podium of the season at Kouvola, saying: “It was a hard final, I came out in third and from there it was a race of pace. When Rytkonen took the joker I knew that we were racing for position. Dad was pushing me so hard on the radio, especially the two last laps was absolutely everything I could give. It wasn’t enough for more than third today but I’m happy for this. It’s a huge step from Holjes in Sweden last weekend when we didn’t really know what was going on and Kevin claimed a P2, but we were a bit off the pace. After all the work we’ve done this week to be rewarded with a podium feels incredible.”
Overnight the weather changed and rain turned the track to a mixture of mud and really slick surfaces where
Finland’s Niclas Gronholm scored an emotional home victory.
GRX Taneco’s Gronholm produced his best qualifying performance of the season in the Intermediate Classification to end up second and take 15 championship points at the Kouvola circuit, located 130 km north east of Finland’s capital Helsinki. He then won semi-final two in treacherous conditions to earn a front row start for the final.
The TQ (top qualifier) position in the Intermediate Classification was taken by Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson, the World RX Drivers’ points leader, fresh from winning round three of the Championship at the same circuit on Saturday.
Kristoffersson started from pole position for the final, thanks to victory in semi-final one, but it was Gronholm who led on lap one after overtaking Kristoffersson at the first corner. From there on, Gronholm held the lead in difficult wet and slippery conditions at the picturesque venue, fending off the close attentions of first Kristoffersson, and then Mattias Ekstrom, when Kristoffersson took his joker on lap three.
Managing the race lead with maturity beyond his years, with the chasing pack just centimetres behind the GRX Taneco Hyundai i20 Supercar for the entire race, Gronholm took his joker on lap six and held on to score his third World RX career victory.
Ekstrom finished second, overtaking Kristoffersson in the last corner. For the first time in 2020 though, Kristoffersson didn’t finish on the podium, he was also overtaken by Gronholm’s GRX team mate, Russia’s Timur Timerzyanov, in a race to the finish line.
Sweden’s Timmy Hansen, racing a Peugeot 208 for Team Hansen, finished fifth after taking his joker on lap one and Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel’s Andreas Bakkerud completed the list of final finishers.
Kristoffersson continues to lead the Drivers’ Championship standings, KYB Team JC maintains its position in the lead of the Teams’ Championship standings.
“I knew that the guys behind would push me in the tight corners in the final, so I just kept to the inside lines and just accelerating on the straights was enough. I was keeping calm and trying not to do any mistakes at all. I did a few, but not so big mistakes. I felt the pressure but it was basically just to control the race when I got into the lead, and it’s really nice to get a win,” said Gronholm.
Ekstrom’s second place finish kept the Swede in title-contention. “I had good pace in the final, it was difficult to see with so much dirt on the windscreen, but somehow the wipers swept it away and I could see. I felt had good pace compared to Niclas so I had no problem at all to stick on his bumper, but he did no mistakes so big congratulations to him and the entire team – when you make no mistakes then you can win. I didn’t see much, I heard my guys on the radio, they said it would be tight in the last corner and I look forward to watching it on TV because everyone says it was a great race,” said Ekstrom.
Timerzyanov visited the podium for the first time this year. “That was good. That was a nice fight in both the semi-final and final, it was so close. I started to over drive a little bit on the last lap, and it was a really tight last corner, everyone wanted to be on the podium. Johan opened the door and I used that to pass him on the inside. I’m really happy,” said Timerzyanov.