Wednesday, 08 July 2020 17:28

RallyX Nordic - Rallycross returns with a bang!

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'All-Star' Magic Weekend lives up to its name

The king is back. Johan Kristoffersson reminded everybody just why he is a two-time World Champion with a wet-weather masterclass at Höljes yesterday (6 July), as rallycross roared back into life in spectacular style at the ‘All-Star’ Magic Weekend.

Kristoffersson had been there or thereabouts throughout Saturday’s two qualifying sessions, albeit never quite on the ultimate pace in his rebuilt 2016 Volkswagen Polo. When the heavens opened on Sunday, that all changed and the Swede – whose last rallycross appearance was almost 20 months ago – stormed to a sensational comeback victory on home soil.

Round one winner and reigning RallyX Nordic presented by Cooper Tires Champion Robin Larsson added the runner-up spoils to his earlier triumph, with former title-holder Oliver Solberg reaching the rostrum on his series return in the much-loved Citroën DS3.

Jesse Kallio put his Thursday disappointment firmly behind him with a commanding Supercar Lites class success for Olsbergs MSE, as an inspired Mats Oskarsson sped to second place and local specialist Linus Östlund made it two podiums from as many starts in third. Max Rundberg played an early joker strategy to perfection to prevail in the CrossCar category, while Raoul Dahlqvist lifted the laurels in CrossCar Junior.

In the tremendously popular ‘Legends’ invitational class, meanwhile, two-time FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm proved that the years have taken away none of his razor-sharp skills as he left his fellow rallying and rallycross heroes trailing. Henning Solberg emerged on top in the scrap for second, ahead of Stig-Olov ‘Stecka’ Walfridson, Andreas Eriksson and – at the ripe old age of 74 – Per Eklund.

With every moment of the major action broadcast live and in superb definition all around the world – and the first-rate commentary team of Andrew Coley, Hal Ridge, Neil Cole and Molly Pettit delivering countless entertaining and engaging studio interviews with motorsport heroes past, present and future – the ‘All-Star’ Magic Weekend was a resounding success that finally raised the curtain on the 2020 international rallycross campaign.

Supercar

Third overnight behind Robin Larsson and Saturday pace-setter Niclas Grönholm, Johan Kristoffersson outclassed all of his rivals in Q4 as conditions deteriorated, before simply driving away from his pursuers in the semi-final, going almost ten seconds faster than anybody else could manage. That earned him a front row berth for the all-important final, and after nailing the start to out-drag pole-sitter Larsson to Turn One, he was untouchable.

Larsson jokered early in his efforts to respond, but had to battle his way past Fraser McConnell – the Jamaican excelling on his Supercar debut to make it through to the final in the high-calibre, 20-strong field – and by then, Kristoffersson had already checked out. That meant the KYB Team JC ace had to settle for the runner-up spoils, which nonetheless saw him leave Höljes in possession of the championship lead.

Behind the wheel of the venerable DS3, Oliver Solberg was a lightning-fast starter all weekend and fended off namesake Oliver Eriksson and 2017 RallyX Nordic Champion Thomas Bryntesson for the remaining spot on the podium. For Eriksson, fourth place marked a much happier ending to the event after an uncharacteristically off-colour opening day, while Bryntesson had to recover from a stall on the grid when the lights went out.

McConnell took the chequered flag a creditable sixth following a typically committed performance first time out in the class, but elsewhere, there were hard-luck stories, and nobody could claim to have been robbed more than Grönholm. After winning both Q1 and Q2, the Finn took TQ honours but found himself stranded on the start-line in his semi-final; although he valiantly battled back to fourth, the time loss was ultimately too great to overcome.

Ben-Philip Gundersen similarly had cause to feel hard done-by. Making his maiden appearance in a Supercar, the Norwegian – champion in RallyX Nordic’s Supercar Lites class last year – turned heads throughout with his scintillating starts and accomplished racecraft, but Lady Luck was rarely on his side. An electrical issue that ruled him out of Q3 was symptomatic of his fortunes, and like on Thursday, the JC Raceteknik star narrowly failed to reach the final on Sunday at the end of a stellar weekend.

Pontus Tidemand showed strong form and could have been a contender but for a sluggish getaway in his semi-final, while Lukas Walfridson brought his striking yellow Renault Clio back out to play and impressed with his turn-of-speed after a year out of the cockpit.

Like fellow Supercar rookies McConnell and Gundersen, Anders Michalak made a good impression on his class debut. Last but far from least, serious credit must go to the ACRX crew, who repaired Andreas Carlsson’s Clio in super-quick time for the Swede to be able to start the semi-final after his car set on fire on the run to Turn One in Q4, causing its driver a heart-stopping moment from which he thankfully emerged unscathed.

Johan Kristoffersson said:

“It’s very nice to be back! When the sniff of a win was there, I felt I could be really threatening on pure pace. It was great to get back into a super-competitive mode, analysing everything and trying different lines in the rain when I had a gap behind me.

“My start in the final was very good – all three wet starts were very good, in fact. The Polo is easy to launch in the wet, controlling it with the clutch and throttle. I made sure to spray the cars behind me so they couldn’t see anything – that was planned! From there on, I tried to push a little harder on the first lap while making no mistakes, and then just focussed on banging the laps in with a safe margin.

“I haven’t driven this car much before, so it was nice to see how it handles and it worked very well, with no problems whatsoever. I’m very happy.”

Supercar Lites

Jesse Kallio looked to be on-course for Supercar Lites glory on Thursday, until a gearshift issue in Q3 and wheel bearing failure in the semi-final halted his charge in its tracks. Fast forward three days, and the Olsbergs MSE ace was not to be denied a second time. After again dominating Q1 and Q2, he enjoyed a change of fortunes in the semi-final as he benefitted from a joker lap merge collision between Marcus Höglund and Linus Östlund to grab pole position for the final.

From there, the Finn was never headed, and he was chased home by surprise package Mats Oskarsson, who was promoted to the last six following a track marker penalty for countryman Jimmie Walfridson.

Oskarsson was on fine form all weekend, consistently and energetically mixing it with his younger adversaries and playing a masterstroke with an early joker in the final. Hunting his rivals down, the Swede overhauled both Östlund and Henrik Krogstad when they jokered on the last lap to seal a brilliant second-place finish and match his best result in the series to-date.

Following a superb launch that saw him split the front row starters, Östlund – who produced an incredible save after being sideswiped by the unsighted Höglund in the semi-final – held on to finish third in his ‘backyard’, while Krogstad completed a positive weekend on his return to racing in fourth. The #YellowSquad ace pulled off a gutsy pass for the lead on Östlund in Q4, as he signalled that he will be a real force to be reckoned with over the coming months.

Championship leader Simon Olofsson was unable to replicate his Thursday victory as he had to settle for fifth place on Sunday, struggling for traction in the treacherous conditions, with STS RX team-mate Thomas Holmen following the Swede closely home in sixth. The Norwegian – who won at Höljes last year – was on punchy form, particularly in Q2 as he fought his way to the front of the field in an audience-pleasing performance.

Getting stronger as the weekend progressed, Martin Enlund sat an excellent fourth overall after Q3, but was sent into a spin by Olofsson when the round one winner inadvertently ran wide on the slippery track surface in Q4. He was subsequently delayed again on the opening lap of the semi-final, which was where his challenge ended.

Walfridson enjoyed a solid event and was unlucky not to reproduce his final appearance from Thursday, while #YellowSquad rookie Dan Skočdopole similarly missed the last six on this occasion, skating through the gravel at the start of Q3 and taking the chequered flag fourth in semi-final two.

Jesse Kallio said:

“This is payback for what happened on Thursday! It’s been a really up-and-down weekend. We’ve been quick throughout, which is encouraging, but the technical issues we suffered in round one were obviously frustrating. I also struggled with the starts, which meant I gave myself a bit too much work to do at times.

“The weather then threw a curve ball into the equation on Sunday, which was the first time I’ve ever driven a Supercar Lites car in fully wet conditions. It was really tricky out there, and whilst I was pushing hard, you have to be slightly cautious too when it’s like that. I got a bit lucky in the semi-final with the coming-together between Linus [Östlund] and Marcus [Höglund], but after Thursday, maybe I deserved some luck...

“This is a great way to start the season. It was a disappointing end to last year, so it’s nice to come out fighting and I think we’ve taken a decent step forward over the winter, which bodes well for the races to come.”

CrossCar / CrossCar Junior

Max Rundberg adopted an early joker tactic in both the semi-final and final to claim victory in the CrossCar/Crosskart class, seizing the initiative from long-time leader Isak Reiersen when his rival served his own joker on the last lap of the final. The JC Raceteknik Juniorteam driver – the architect of a brilliant overtake in the semi-final – held on to finish second, with Thomas Eek Murstad rounding out the rostrum in third ahead of Jimmie Österberg and Timmy Enlund.

There was misery, however, for impressive TQ Patrik Hallberg and Isac Egonsson, both of whom stalled at the start of the first semi-final, while Julle Ljungdahl spun out of a commanding lead in semi-final two.

By contrast, an honourable mention must go to Marcus Agerheim, who only just snuck into the semi-finals in 18th position but went on to progress through to the final. Five-time FIA World Rally Championship runner-up Thierry Neuville similarly showcased his wet-weather prowess, but was unable to repeat his Thursday semi-final showing.

Revelling in the conditions, Raoul Dahlqvist proved to be the ‘rain master’ in the CrossCar Junior category, but the Finn did require a slice of luck to prevail. From the rear of the grid, Erik Andersson squeezed spectacularly through the middle of his rivals at lights-out to snatch a lead he would never relinquish, but a post-race track limits penalty dropped him to third behind Dahlqvist and Rasmus Persson.

Cementing the curse of the TQs at Höljes on Sunday, Thursday winner Alex Gustafsson was denied the chance to double up when he was left on the line at the start of his semi-final.

Max Rundberg said:

“I had a bad start, really bad. When it’s wet, the car doesn’t start so well. That’s mostly my problem, I think, but I took the joker on the first lap like I used to do and it worked out well. In these conditions, you need to have a clean run and avoid getting too much spray or dirt on the windscreen. My spotter kept telling me, ‘push, push, push’ and then when I got ahead of Isak [Reiersen], I just concentrated on keeping it steady. It’s been a good start to the season.”

Raoul Dahlqvist said:

“I was a little bit surprised when I reached parc fermé and they told me I’d won – I wasn’t expecting that! Going into the final, I knew it would be tough because we had seen in the other races that it was very slippery underneath the front row grid slots, but I pushed as hard as I could. I have a lot of seat time in the wet and that clearly paid off.”

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