Johan Kristoffersson has won his first ever RX2e event in a chaotic final of the fourth round of the RX2e class of the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship in Mettet, Belgium. Norway’s Ole Henry Steinsholt repeated his podium success from round 3 by finishing second, with Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky rounding out the top three.
The RX2e grid at Mettet was packed with regulars from the series, as well as familiar faces from the RX1e class. Following the fire at Lydden Hill, UK, last time out, the decision was taken by the FIA and the event organisers in Belgium not to run the top class of World RX cars, as the cause of the fire has yet to be properly identified. As a result, Kristoffersson, teammate Ole Christian Veiby, and brothers Kevin and Timmy Hansen stepped into the support series to try their hand against the regulars of that series.
The deal struck by the FIA and the organisers was that the four RX1e drivers would not score any points. The championship fight would remain open and even, which makes Viktor Vranckx‘s decision to pull out of the championship look even stranger. He had the opportunity to fight against the biggest names in world rallycross and prove his talent, but has instead elected to pull out of the championship. This did, however, blow the championship even wider open, with just one point separating Andersson and Isak Sjökvist.
Kevin Hansen started the weekend strongly. He took his Hansen World RX Team RX2e car to the top of the timing chart in the qualifying practice session, putting him on pole. Estonia’s Marko Muru impressed by putting his car in second position, ahead of Veiby and Kristoffersson in third and fourth. Timmy Hansen lined up fifth, meaning that all four of the interlopers were quicker than the RX2e regulars.
In conditions that have been changeable all weekend long, Kristoffersson once again proved his talent, taking three out of four heat wins. The star of the heats, however, was Kristoffersson Motorsport‘s Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky. Twice in the heats, she was second only to her teammate Kristoffersson. This means she takes the three points for being the fastest of the RX2e regulars, with Andersson taking two points and Muru one.
Kevin and Timmy Hansen finished second and fourth in the heats, meaning they lined up together on the front row of their semi-final. Meanwhile, Steinsholt did what he did at Lydden Hill, keeping it calm, quiet, and collected to get him in a good position for his semi-final.
Sjökvist was unable to make the final in a very dramatic semi-final race. Veiby was in fourth position and getting the hammer down to get up into the top three positions and progress to the final when he caught a bump on the run up to the chicane at the end of the back straight. Veiby was then a passenger as the car drifted sideways and careered into the tyre barrier, flipping the car over and causing a red flag. Veiby was thankfully unharmed.
When the race got underway again, Sjökvist was unable to break into the top three, meaning that the championship leader did not make the final. Åhlin-Kottulinsky, who sat ten points behind Andersson prior to coming to Belgium, now had a real chance to take bridge that gap and put herself in contention for the title.
In semi-final two, Timmy Hansen was able to keep car issues from slowing him down too much. He stayed just ahead of a flying Nils Andersson, while Kevin Hansen suffered a last lap puncture. He managed to just sneak into third position, but was given a five second penalty for cutting a corner in the final section. Hansen may feel hard done by that decision, as it was the puncture that caused it. Ultimately, however, it gave Steinsholt the opportunity to steal a place in the final.
The word to sum up the final: chaos. Timmy Hansen made an appalling start, dropping to the back of the order. Kristoffersson then picked up some rear suspension damage pretty much straight away on lap one, meaning his car was all over the place as he tried desperately to diagnose the problem from inside the car. Andersson dropped out of contention away from the cameras and so it is tricky to say what caused it, whether it was a spin or a reaction to the extremely bumpy conditions of Mettet’s rough surface sections.
Timmy Hansen had managed to get back into second position, but one of the rough bumps after the jump section broke his front suspension, rendering him a passenger as his car drifted into the tyre barrier. Meanwhile Kristoffersson pulled off one of the drives of his career. The car was visibly crabbing down the straights, but somehow he managed to hold on and take a commanding victory over Steinsholt and Åhlin-Kottulinsky.
Speaking of the challenge of the final, Kristoffersson said “it was very, very tricky to drive. It took me some time to understand what the problem was. I thought it was just a little bit out of line, so the car was moving a little bit more. I made some mistakes and didn’t really understand. But I felt I could keep the pace up quite well anyway. Then I started to understand how to drive it, and from then on it wasn’t so bad!“
With one round to go in the championship, at Estering, Germany, in two weeks time, there is a four-way title fight to be settled. Nils Andersson is the one to beat with a 6 point advantage over Sjökvist. Having missed out on the final this time round, the young Swede has to give it everything in Germany. Andersson’s teammate, Åhlin-Kottulinsky is tied on points with Sjökvist, with dark horse Steinsholt just three points behind them.
Be sure to follow The Checkered Flag to see what happens when RX2e heads to Germany on 19/20 August.