Saturday, March 2, 2024

Kristoffersson Takes Victory At WRX Opening Round in Montalegre

Johan Kristoffersson has had the perfect start to the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship. The five-time and reigning champion secured victory at Montalegre, Portugal, in tumultuous conditions, holding off the opposition to take a commanding win.

Kristoffersson once again demonstrated his mastery of the sport. His unbeaten SuperPole run continues, followed by a clean sweep of heat wins, a semi-final win, and ultimate triumph in the final. In the revised rules for the 2023 season, that means that the Swedish superstar has the full 23 points available after the first weekend of racing.

Acknowledging the complexities of the weekend, Kristoffersson said “to win here, you have to overcome so many challenges – just when you think you have everything under control, the weather and track conditions change again! The car was an absolute weapon throughout so big thanks to everybody in the team for making this possible“. He truly is the man to beat this season, and so far there doesn’t seem to be anyone with an answer to his phenomenal pace.

Kevin Hansen holding on the second place despite a left-rear puncture. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

As is common for opening rounds, it felt like several teams were trying to find their pace. Hansen World RX Team, who position themselves as Kristofferson’s main rivals, struggled on the first day before finding some pace on Sunday. After contact with his brother in the semi-final, Timmy Hansen found himself unexpectedly out of the final race of the weekend. Kevin Hansen survived and made it through to the final, where he did an amazing job of controlling his car despite a puncture caused by opening lap contact.

Team manager and rallycross legend Kenneth Hansen takes solace from the podium finish for one of his drivers. “We are not at winning pace yet,” he admitted, “but we are working hard and looking forward to Norway to see what we can do there“. Kevin Hansen held off a determined charge from Niclas Grönholm, with both drivers demonstrating the importance of the rallycross maxim “rubbing is racing”.

Construction Equipment Dealer Team and Grönholm looked to be Kristofferson’s main competitor. He demonstrated superb pace throughout the weekend, finishing second to Kristoffersson in two out of four heat races. His teammate, Klara Andersson, while not being able to replicate the podium finish from 2022, demonstrated good pace throughout and finished fifth, just behind Kristoffersson Motorsport‘s Ole Christian Veiby, who was extremely consistent throughout.

There was plenty of great action on show for the fans who had gathered at Montalegre. Credit: Joerg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

The most eye-catching team on the 2023 grid, Special ONE Racing had a productive, if not massively successful, weekend. Unveiling their spectacular Group B inspired livery in Portugal, they drew the attention in the paddock with their Delta Evo-e RX and superstar driver lineup of Guerlain Chicherit and nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastian Loeb. Loeb made it to the final in the team’s first outing, an undeniably impressive achievement. Once again, however, the pace seemed to be there for the team, but it never quite fell into place.

Loeb acknowledges that they are starting on the back foot. “We showed a good level of performance, because we mustn’t forget that we’re up against specialists in the discipline, drivers and teams who have more experience than us with electric RX1e cars” Loeb explained. He also acknowledged the strength of one driver in particular: “Johan Kristoffersson is clearly untouchable at the moment, but the podium is not so far“.

While Kristoffersson remains untouchable for the time being, all the other teams have clear podium and race win ambitions. As the championship moves to Hell, Norway on 17/18 June, the pack is determined to close in.