Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Kristoffersson Takes Title As Hansen Wins In Hong Kong

Johan Kristoffersson has won the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship. The Swede sealed the deal in the semi-final of the first event in the double-header weekend in Hong Kong. A problem in the final meant that victory went to Kevin Hansen for the first time this season, followed by Niclas Grönholm in second and Timo Scheider, winner of the previous round, in third.

The spectacular final turn and Joker lap in Hong Kong. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Heats

Due to “unforseen construction delays,” the action was somewhat truncated in Hong Kong, meaning there were only two heats before the semi-finals. The circuit in the Central Harbourfront area of the city is brand new, being built overnight before the event. As commentator Hal Ridge noted, “the loose surface is brand new. It hasn’t got years of bedrock under it. It’s very soft on the top. Of course, it’s well compacted together, but it’s going to evolve a lot.”

It was a wet start to the day, adding yet another challenge into the mix. Kevin Hansen led the way in the first heat, but was challenged all the way by Kristoffersson. Klara Andersson battled well with Kristoffersson but faded away slightly by the end of the race. Her teammate, Grönholm, took the win in his first heat, but complained that the track was getting too bumpy already. Despite this, it was an encouraging start for the CE Dealer Team who have had a rough run of form in recent events.

Niclas Grönholm was back on form in Hong Kong. Credit: @World / Red Bull Content Pool

That momentum continued into heat two, where he won his heat race, managing to finish ahead of the supremely fast Kristoffersson and Hansen. Kristoffersson’s teammate Ole Christian Veiby survived a difficult race to take his heat win ahead of Timmy Hansen and Scheider. Kevin Hansen topped the rankings at the end of the heats ahead of Grönholm and Kristoffersson.

Semi-Finals

All Kristoffersson had to do to claim the title was finish third in his semi-final. It was by no means a done deal. Kevin Hansen brilliantly forced Kristoffersson out wide at the first corner in an attempt to push him down the ranking. Hansen’s teammates, Timmy Hansen and Patrick O’Donovan, making his World RX debut, had a fantastic battle during the race having both done their joker lap early. Kristoffersson was therefore afforded a little bit of breathing room and finished in third position, just 1.1 seconds ahead of O’Donovan.

How close do you like it? O’Donovan and Timmy Hansen battling in the semi-final. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

After the semi-final, the ever-humble Kristoffersson described his triumph as “nice, really nice. That was the aim, to be able to secure it on the first day, so happy with that.” His mind had immediately turned to the remaining action, saying “I quickly have to go back and string up the car because the left front is quite damaged.

O’Donovan was magnanimous after the race. He acknowledged that he perhaps could have been in the final, saying “it’s pretty gut-wrenching if I’m being honest. We had a bit of a fight there with Timmy at the end so perhaps, if we weren’t fighting as much and just going for race time, it would have been a different story. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, as they say.”

Grönholm led the way in the second semi-final of the day, followed by Veiby and Andersson. With the title wrapped up, all eyes now turn to the battle for second, which is a three-way battle between Kevin Hansen, Scheider, and Grönholm, so these semi-final victories now become crucial.

The start of the final. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Final

Kevin Hansen looked dominant from the moment the lights went out in the final. He led the way from start to finish but was pressured all the way by Kristoffersson. After a poor start and an early Joker, Grönholm was absolutely flying as he tried to make up ground. Scheider was right on his tail as they chased down Veiby for third position.

Kristoffersson completed his Joker on lap four to give him clean air, meaning Hansen would have to put in a mega lap to stay ahead. But then, disaster struck for the two Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS drivers. At the start of lap five, Kristoffersson’s car seemed to cut out, leaving him stranded on the track. At the same corner, Grönholm muscled his way past Veiby, relegating him to fourth position. Out front, it was all about Kevin Hansen who took advantage of the chaos behind him and brought home his ZEROID X1 car for a magnificent first victory of the year.

Kevin Hansen roars to victory. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Driver Reaction

After the race, Kevin Hansen said “it’s been a massive team effort, with a lot of work even right up until the final where we were making changes to improve.” As major advocates for electric rallycross, Hansen was rightly pleased with the result, but, like Kristoffersson, already has eyes on Sunday: “everything came together today – but it’s a new day tomorrow and we will go all in again.”

Kevin Hansen with fans in Hong Kong. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Up Next

Kristoffersson’s triumph means that, in a championship which has only existed for a decade, the Swedish superstar is now an astonishing six-time world champion. All eyes now turn to the battle for second on 12 November, the final race day of the year.

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