Four rounds in eight days to start the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship has given us some crazy races and brilliant drives. We had plenty of that in Kouvola as the World RX of Finland made its return to the championship after a six year absence.
Despite having not driven at the Kouvola circuit, Johan Kristoffersson was nearly unbeatable but GRX Taneco‘s Niclas Grönholm stunned the Swede on Sunday in the final.
Grönholm withstands the pressure with a stunning drive
Everything was going Kristoffersson’s way all weekend until the final race of the event but Gronholm had the drive of his career so far to topple the two-time champion. Gronholm ducked underneath Kristoffersson on the exit of turn one to take the lead in Sunday’s final.
Even though Grönholm had track position Kristoffersson was all over him. The turn six hairpin saw the pack concertina as Grönholm smartly backed the field up. Crucially, the Finn did not make one mistake and kept it clean to prevent Kristoffersson or Mattias Ekström from overtaking him.
It was a fantastic drive in such trick conditions to not run wide and keep the Hyuindai i20 on the racing line with two of the best rallycross drivers ever right on his tail, bumping him and filling his mirrors at every turn.
An early joker lap from Kristoffersson put him in prime position but Grönholm knew he just had to back the pack up on the final lap and then drive the next few corners to perfection to have a big enough gap to Kristoffersson. He emerged ahead, as did Ekström but it took a mighty drive to win on home soil.
Ominous pace from Kristoffersson
Until the last race of the weekend, Kristoffersson had scored 52 points out of 52. With no track experience he somehow was on the pace immediately as he made the most of the VW Polo’s amazing starts to top all three qualifying sessions, dominate his semi-final and cruise to victory on Saturday.
It is a scary prospect to come up against for the rest of the field knowing that if Kristoffersson leads after turn one he is unstoppable.
A small blip in Q2 when an electrical issue caused him to lose pace did not make a difference as Kristoffersson still secured the top qualifier for a fourth time this season. He is also the only driver to make every final in 2020 after four rounds, the key to winning rallycross championships is simply make the final to bag points.
In the rain, nobody can get close to Kristoffersson and Volkswagen Dealerteam Bauhaus. With Riga next, three events in October and a finale at the Nurburgring in December, wet weather is guaranteed and Kouvola showed that Kristoffersson’s advantage is bigger when it rains.
Underwhelming weekend for Kyb Team JC
There were big expectations for Robin Larsson prior to the World RX of Finland since he won at Kouvola last year in RallyX Nordic. But, traffic and contact proved costly for Larsson who will be very disappointed that he failed to even make the final at either of the Finnish rounds.
Ekström’s semi final retirement on Saturday was followed by a race-ending problem for Larsson but Ekström recovered to claim a vital second place if he does commit to a full FIA World Rallycross Championship campaign.
The pace that Kyb Team JC showed at Höljes was not there in Finland but Ekström is still applying enough pressure to keep Kristoffersson on his toes. It seems that Larsson and Ekström both improve as the weekend goes on so improving the car they have at the start of a race weekend is something the team will need to work on before Latvia.
Rytkönen shines on home soil
Without doubt the best feel-good story from the weekend has to be Juha Rytkönen‘s second place finish on Saturday. He was on the pace immediately and stunned the field. Rytkönen was the first driver to get onto the podium on their World RX debut since Kevin Eriksson in Argentina 2014.
The high-quality 2020 grid only emphasises how impressive Rytkönen’s performance was. To adapt to the GRX Set Promotion run Hyundai i20 and to withstand the pressure from some of the best rallycross drivers in the world was simply stunning.
It would be great to see Rytkönen return for another round at some point this year because he is a driver that is still relatively new to Supercar so will only get better.
Timmy gets the upper hand over Kevin
Timmy Hansen returned to form at Kouvola after Team Hansen worked hard following the opening rounds of the year to find a solution for Timmy’s lack of pace.
The defending world champion was arguably the second fastest driver in Finland along with Grönholm. Contact with Andreas Bakkerud for the second consecutive weekend re-ignited the rivalry on Sunday and Timmy had a slight advantage over brother Kevin Hansen which will give him a lot of encouragement.
Kevin made a great move to make the final on Saturday but was hurt by Timmy’s joker lap in the semi-final on Sunday. The Hansen brothers’ tripped over each other which cost Kevin a final place to Timur Timerzyanov who had a great drive to get onto the podium.
Doran’s ongoing nightmare
Has there ever been a rallycross driver with such retched luck as Liam Doran? He suffered prop shaft and drive shaft problems in Höljes which caused him to retire and just when you thought his misfortune would come to an end, the rallycross Gods gave Doran even more pain in Kouvola.
This time minor contact with Jere Kalliokoski on Saturday and Kevin Abbring on Sunday caused a wheel baring issue as well as a dramatic tyre failure. It is quite unbelievable the amount of problems Doran has had and he simply cannot catch a break.
He did remarkably well to keep his cool because many drivers would have had enough with the endless issues. Everyone would love to see Doran have a clean weekend in a few weeks in Latvia since his 2020 campaign has been heartbreaking so far.
GCK Bilstein and Unkorrupted endure a troubled weekend
Anton Marklund was one of the form drivers in Sweden but engine issues and poor starts put the Swede in a difficult position for much of the event. Overtaking proved to be very difficult at Kouvola, especially with the small difference between the joker lap and normal route meaning getting off the line well was more important than usual.
The returning Kevin Abbring could not repeat any of his 2019 heroics as GCK Unkorrupted‘s lack of pure pace continued. Abbring and Guerlain Chicherit trialled different setups and ideas but it has come to no avail although the team will have learnt a lot and understood what direction they need to take the Renault Clio in, in terms of tuning.
For all the reaction to the weekend, check it out right here at The Checkered Flag and do no miss the latest news as the FIA World Rallycross Championship builds up to Latvia on 19-20 September.