Victory for Johan Kristoffersson in the 2020 World RX season opener

Johan Kristoffersson (VW Polo Mk5) won the opening round of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship – World RX of Sweden – at Höljes today (August 22). The 2017 and 2018 FIA World Rallycross champion returned to Rallycross after having competed one season in the FIA World Touring Car Cup. In the final on Saturday afternoon he beat KYB Team JC’s Mattias Ekström (Audi S1), the 2016 FIA World Rallycross champion, and Timo Scheider (SEAT Ibiza Mk4), who came in fourth but was awarded third.

Start of the final with Johan Kristoffersson (VW Polo Mk5) going into the lead, ahead of Mattias Ekström (Audi S1). (Photo: Tom Banks)

The first practice session of the season on Saturday morning went to Monster Energy GCK RX Cartel’s Andreas Bakkerud (Renault Mégane Mk4), last year’s runner-up in the championship, who switched from an Audi S1 to a Renault Mégane for this season. Bakkerud was faster than Johan Kristoffersson and Timmy Hansen (Peugeot 208), the defending champion.

In Q1 Bakkerud stalled the car on the start line when the green light was shown, resulting in only a 14th time. In Q2 he recorded once more a 14th time putting him into 13th place and outside the semi-final spots after Q2. Kristoffersson was fastest in Q1 and conquered Mattias Ekström who was brought in by KYB Team JC at the eleventh hour for Jānis Baumanis.

Andreas Bakkerud (Renault Mégane Mk4) started the day well with being fastest in the practice session. (Photo: Tom Banks)

During the second qualifying Kristoffersson and Ekström were placed side by side on the grid for the final race. Following the start with Ekström’s team member Robin Larsson (Audi S1), Kristoffersson was more or less forced to pass through the joker lap section already in the opening lap. Ekström lead the session from start to finish to set – at that moment – the fastest time of the day and to secure himself Q2. Second fastest in Q2 was Anton Marklund who is competing as a permanent individual entry in 2020 under “GCK Bilstein”.

In the all-decisive third qualifying eventually Kristoffersson drove to the fastest time again and therefore claiming top qualifier. Second in the intermediate classification was Mattias Ekström who came in fourth in the final Q3 race. Anton Marklund won the final heat race and was third in the intermediate result. The top five were completed by defending champion Timmy Hansen, second in Q3, and Robin Larsson. Bakkerud was tied on points with Timur Timerzyanov (Hyundai i20) for the last spot in the semi-final. Given that Timerzyanov set a quicker time than Bakkerud in Q3 the Russian claimed the last starting position with Bakkerud getting classified 13th overall and consequently being out for the semi-final.

“It was a tricky day for me for sure,” said Bakkerud. “We had a great start to the day putting down some good pace but then the technical issue in the first and second qualifier put me on the back foot and I didn’t manage to win enough time back in Q3. It’s tough with only three qualifiers and the entire round in one day as every issue has an even bigger impact and it’s super tough to fight back. Now we have to look to tomorrow and make up for it then.”

The final race of Q3 was eventually won by Anton Marklund (Renault Mégane Mk4). (Photo: Tom Banks)

Following the intermediate standings, the first semi-final saw Swedes Johan Kristoffersson and Anton Marklund on the front row. The second row was occupied by Robin Larsson and Niclas Grönholm (Hyundai i20) while Krisztián Szabó (Hyundai i20) and Rokas Bačiuska (Renault Clio Mk4) completed the grid.

When the green light was shown, Kristoffersson went into the lead ahead of Grönholm with Marklund passing through the joker lap section in the beginning of the race. In the third lap, Grönholm, Larsson and Szabó all passed through the joker lap section with Grönholm and Larsson joining the main track again ahead of Marklund. Kristoffersson passed through the joker lap section in the fifth lap and stayed ahead of Grönholm. After six laps Kristoffersson, Grönholm and Larsson were the three drivers who made it through to the final. However, the Steward’s of the Meeting gave a three seconds time penalty to Robin Larsson afterwards allowing Anton Marklund to take part in the final.

The front row of the second semi-final was occupied by Mattias Ekström and Timmy Hansen. On the second row were Kevin Hansen (Peugeot 208) together with Timo Scheider (SEAT Ibiza Mk4) while Sebastian Eriksson (Honda Civic Mk10 Coupé) and Timur Timerzyanov were on the last row. Ekström won the start from Timmy Hansen and lead it after the first turn. Kevin Hansen got overtaken by Eriksson in the joker lap section in the opening lap and both continued as sixth and fifth respectively. Eriksson then overtook Timerzyanov, when the latter came out of the joker lap section, to ran fourth by the end of the second lap. In the remaining laps the leading trio passed through the joker lap section in lap four (Scheider), lap five (Timmy Hansen) and the final lap (Ekström) all keeping their race positions each time. Therefore Ekström, Timmy Hansen and Scheider were qualified for the final.

Mattias Ekström (Audi S1) won the second semi-final. (Photo: Tom Banks)

In the final, with Kristoffersson and Ekström on the front row and under wet weather conditions, the first named won the start from Ekström. Grönholm on the second row missed his start while Hansen spun his car after the first turn. With Marklund, Scheider, Hansen and Grönholm all passing through the joker lap section in the beginning of the race, the final was down to a duel between Kristoffersson and Ekström. Ekström passed through the joker lap section in the third lap while Kristoffersson did the same in lap five. However positions didn’t change and Kristoffersson kept a solid lead over Ekström and scored a lights-to-flag win in the opening round of the 2020 season.

“This feels very good,” said winner Kristoffersson. “I had a bit of a tricky starting position in Q1, but I had a very good start in the rain and managed to have a good Q1 after that. That made everything a bit easier. In the semi-final we tried a few things on the car that didn’t really work out, but then the rain came for the final. We had all sorts of different conditions but I have very good people around me and the launch in the final speaks for itself”.

“Finishing second is never something I dream about,” Ekström commented after the final. “Johan did a good job and you have to say they have a very good car. We have developed our car as good as we can, but when the sky opened and we had a full dry setup for the final I knew I would not stand a chance. If it had been dry, I think it would have been closer.”

Anton Marklund came in third and was initially allowed to join Kristoffersson and Ekström on the Höljes Coronavirus proof podium. However, after the race Marklund was given a 30 seconds time penalty by the Stewards for the incident with Timmy Hansen in the opening lap. So Marklund was set back to fifth place in the official result and German Timo Scheider was promoted to third and Niclas Grönholm to fourth.

Timo Scheider (SEAT Ibiza Mk4) was eventually awarded third place. (Photo: Tom Banks)

In the drivers standings after the first round Johan Kristoffersson (30 points) is leading with the maximum amount of points ahead of Mattias Ekström (26 points) and Anton Marklund (20 points). KYB Team JC (41 points) is leading in the team standings ahead of Team Hansen (32 points).

The second round of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship takes place tomorrow with the action going underway from 9am local time.

Brief Results and Standings

Supercar: 1. Johan Kristoffersson (S), VW Polo Mk5; 2. Mattias Ekström (S), Audi S1; 3. Timo Scheider (D), SEAT Ibiza Mk4; 4. Niclas Grönholm (FIN), Hyundai i20; 5. Anton Marklund (S), Renault Mégane Mk4; 6. Timmy Hansen (S), Peugeot 208; etc.

Drivers: 1. Johan Kristoffersson (S), 30; 2. Mattias Ekström (S), 26; 3. Anton Marklund (S), 20; etc.

Teams: 1. KYB Team JC (S), 42; 2. Team Hansen (S), 32; 3. GRX Taneco (FIN), 24; etc.