Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson claimed his 23rd career victory at the Neste World RX of Riga-Latvia, round five of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy, to extend his Drivers’ Championship lead – but Mattias Ekstrom came on strong in the second event of the double-header to win overall and keep the title chase alive.
Kristoffersson took his third win of the 2020 World RX season with Kristoffersson Motorsport, leading the final in Riga for all six laps in a Volkswagen Polo. The Swedish driver qualified second in the Intermediate Classification, took victory in semi-final two, and won the final to extend his Championship lead to 21 points.
Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom battled his way to victory in semi-final one to start on row one of the final, then used a superior joker lap strategy by KYB Team JC team to take second, his fourth podium of the 2020 season. Team Hansen’s Timmy Hansen completed the podium to not only make it an all-Swedish top three but to ensure the podium was filled by World RX Drivers’ Champions (Kristoffersson 2017-18, Ekstrom 2016, Hansen 2019).
The TQ (top qualifier) position in the Intermediate Classification was taken by Finland’s Niclas Gronholm, the winner of World RX round four in Finland. The GRX Taneco driver finished second in semi-final one, then had a battle with Sweden’s Kevin Hansen in the final but spun out of podium contention.
Kevin Hansen climbed to second at the start of the final from row three and took his joker on lap two. He defended from Gronholm for over two laps, then challenged brother Timmy Hansen for the final podium place at the last corner of the race. He finished fourth. Gronholm was classified fifth and Sweden’s Robin Larsson, Ekstrom’s KYB Team JC teammate was sixth, following contact and a spin at the second corner. KYB Team JC maintained its position in the lead of the Teams’ Championship standings.
“This feels very good. We were really pushing hard in Q2 and Q3, I was not really able to pull off the best times, but instead we had some good tyres for the semi-final and final so I think we had a big jump on our competitors or terms of tyres, then we had two good starts, and everything is much easier when you have fresh tyres. Big thanks to the team, we made some changes between Q3 and the semi-final and it actually made the car better so that feels good to gamble and go in the right direction,” said winner Kristoffersson.
Together with the 12th victory of his career, achieved by leading all 12 laps of the semi-final and final on Sunday afternoon at the Bikerneiki Sport Complex, Ekstrom took a maximum points haul in Riga to close the gap to World RX Drivers’ Championship leader Johan Kristoffersson, from Sweden.
The KYB Team JC team made setup changes overnight to the Audi S1 Supercars of Ekstrom and Swedish team mate Robin Larsson and Ekstrom controlled the sixth round of the season in qualifying, the semi-finals and the final.
For the first time in 2020 Kristoffersson didn’t win a qualifying a session. The only time Ekstrom was headed throughout the day was by team mate Larsson in Q3. Like Ekstrom and Larsson, the Kristoffersson Motorsport team worked hard on the tyre strategy to have the best Cooper Tires available for the semi-finals and final, and the Drivers’ Championship leader finished second in the final. Larsson was third, his first podium of the season, to help KYB Team JC extend its lead in the World RX Teams’ Championship standings.
Team Hansen’s Timmy Hansen (Peugeot 208) from Sweden, GRX Taneco’s Niclas Gronholm (Hyundai i20), from Finland and Team Hansen’s Kevin Hansen (Peugeot 208), from Sweden completed the classified finishers in the Riga-Latvia final.
“I can’t say enough about our starts [today] because that was a key to the success. Robin finished second in the semi-final which was very good and important points for the team and then the final battle with Johan, such a close race from the start into the first corner and all the laps he was on my bumper, but I did no mistakes and in the end finished in front. It felt amazing and probably one of the best victories. The win in Holjes was really nice, but somehow at Holjes it felt like everyone was saying the final was great, but this time the whole day was great. I would rate this one higher,” said winner Ekstrom.
Kristoffersson was pleased with his points score from round six. “The fight was all the way to the end, but really the biggest chance for victory today was in Q1. When I didn’t manage to take the start there, in Q2 I didn’t manage to beat Mattias again and then I knew he already had a good tyre strategy then for Q3. I was on the back foot from there on. We were very aggressive on the tyres in the semi-final so I had four new tyres for the final the same as Mattias, but I was on the outside for turn one and thereafter I just had to follow him, saving as much tyres as I could for five laps before the joker, but there was a little too much argy-bargy with Gronholm at the joker merge and during the lap, so I couldn’t really challenge Mattias at the last corner. But, it’s still very good points,” said Kristoffersson.
GCK Bilstein’s Anton Marklund (Renault Megane) finished fourth in semi-final two and was classified seventh overall when ALL-INKL.COM Muennich Motorsport’s Timo Scheider (Seat Ibiza), from Germany, was disqualified after the race for contact on lap six with Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel’s Andreas Bakkerud (Renault Megane), from Norway, which eliminated Bakkerud from the race. Bakkerud visited hospital in Riga as a precaution but was released a few hours later. Bakkerud’s teammate, Great Britain’s Liam Doran, finished the semi-final side-by-side side with Marklund.
As first reserve for the final, Kevin Hansen benefitted from Scheider’s disqualification. Hansen finished fourth in semi-final one, in front of GRX Taneco’s Timur Timerzyanov and GRX SET’s Krisztian Szabo, from Hungary, both racing Hyundai i20s. Latvia’s Reinis Nitiss, was classified 13th at his home circuit driving Esmotorsport’s Skoda Fabia. Germany’s Rene Muennich (Seat Ibiza) was 14th, ahead of Unkorrupted team mates Guerlain Chicherit (Renault Clio) and Rokas Baciuska (Renault Clio), from France and Lithuania respectively in 15th and 16th. Ferratum Team’s Jani Paasonen (Ford Fiesta), from Finland, was 17th.