Tuesday, 14 April 2020

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW - Former World RX Champion returns with sights on a third title.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kristoffersson Motorsport
Johan Kristoffersson, the most successful World Rallycross driver to date, has set his sights on yet another title, after confirming his full-time return to the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2020.

The 31-year-old Swede’s motorsport career is nothing short of incredible having claimed titles in both off-road and circuit racing, namely: the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, International Superstars Series, Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia, FIA World Rallycross Championship and the Monster Energy Gymkhana Grid.

After a record-breaking run having won 11 of 12 rounds in the 2018 World RX championship, he was left without a seat following the withdrawal of PSRX Volkswagen Sweden at the end of the season. In 2019, Kristoffersson joined the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) where he claimed three race wins including an incredible fightback from 22nd place to win in Malaysia. His plans to continue in the 2020 WTCR championship were cut short when Volkswagen Motorsport ended its factory-supported internal combustion engine programme in November last year.

While the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. Once the 2020 season gets underway we are sure to witness a thrilling season having seen a closely fought title decider in Cape Town last year.

Johan Kristoffersson post-race celebrations in Cape Town.
PHOTO CREDIT: Junaid Samodien
Speaking to Junaid Samodien (Slipstream SA), Johan Kristoffersson explained how he is preparing mentally and physically after a one-year hiatus from World Rallycross, saying, “I'm preparing more or less similar to any other season. But of course, there are some small adjustments in the preparation to suit rallycross. The start is very crucial in rallycross and this is one example of where I will put some more effort into before 2020 season.”

“Since 2015, I’ve been competing in more than only one category in motorsport (racing, rally, rallycross) per season. I’ve always had the philosophy of driving a lot, even if it’s competing in different categories, which is positive for a driver. But in 2020 I will only focus and put all my effort into World RX (WRX),” he adds.

In 2020, Kristoffersson will return to the World RX championship as an individual entrant with the assistance of his long term partners: Volkswagen Sweden and Bauhaus in a hired Volkswagen Polo GTI RX similar to the one that took him to the title in 2018. I asked Johan how did the opportunity arise to return to the World RX championship in a Volkswagen Supercar. 

“I originally planned to continue with Sebastien Loeb Racing and Volkswagen Motorsport in WTCR for 2020 season, but as Volkswagen decided to pull out from the championship I had to find another solution,” he said. “I evaluated many different options, and a return to World Rallycross was one of them. After many discussions with Volkswagen Motorsport, and with a great partnership with our long term partners Volkswagen Dealers in Sweden and Bauhaus, we finally found an agreement to rent the Polo WRX I used 2018 to run in our private team Kristoffersson Motorsport. We spent many hours getting that equation together.”

With an ever-evolving championship, and a one-year hiatus from the sport. Johan Kristoffersson will return to the championship in a car that he is very familiar with the Volkswagen Polo GTI RX. The development curve in motorsport is rather steep, and in most motorsport championships cars receive upgrades on a regular basis. This is slightly different in World RX with a fixed aero package for the season. So, in order for a driver to be successful, he or she would need a strong car (overall package). I asked Johan what changes have been made to the Volkswagen Polo GTI RX to comply with the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship regulations.
PHOTO CREDIT: Franco Theron/Galimoto. 

“It’s minor changes,” he said. “Nothing will affect the car in a negative way in terms of performance. On the other hand, I hope we have found some small things making the car a bit faster.” 

“The WRX championship was tighter than ever in 2019 and we definitely need to be 100% ready and prepared if we want to fight for the championship title 2020,” he adds.

The Swede displayed his versatility when he claimed two titles in a single year. In the 2018 season, he not only set records on his way to the 2018 World RX crown, but he also went on to win the TCR Scandinavia Touring Car Championship. 

While for many, it takes time to adapt to a racecar. Johan developed a very unique adaptability skill, as he has raced many different cars throughout his career. In 2019, he tested a number of cars and also competed in the WRC-2 class. But just how difficult it would be for Johan to switch from a 350bhp WTCR (2019) front-wheel-drive car to a 2020 specification 600bhp four-wheel-drive rallycross car.

“When I won my two world titles (World RX) in 2017 and 2018 I drove a similar car to the WTCR back home in the Swedish championship. I’m used to driving different cars on different weekends,” he said. “I think the starts in rallycross will be the most difficult to adjust quickly too.”

“The cars are very powerful and with amazing acceleration from a standing start. It’s difficult to always be at the right place at the right time when everything is happening so quickly, but I will do my best to get into 2018 mode as quickly as possible.”

With a global stay at home orders in place worldwide due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many motorsport championships have launched eSports leagues or races. The World Rallycross Championship is one of them. The championship has announced the launch of the ‘World RX Esports Invitational Championship’ to kick-off on 19 April on the Codemasters Dirt Rally 2.0 pc platform. 

Esports is a great platform to sharpen one’s skills and for racing drivers to learn new circuits, with some companies developing sophisticated Esports simulators that replicate a similar feel to being inside a real cockpit. 

I asked Kristoffersson if he relies on a simulator to sharpen his skills: “The 2019 season in WTCR on all the different tracks was new for me. So, I did some simulator training with Volkswagen Motorsport before every event to learn a bit about the track and be as prepared as possible going into the weekend,” he said. “But to be honest I haven’t done many hours in a simulator in my career.”

Last month, the FIA World Rallycross Championship announced that the Swede will join the driver line-up for the Esports Invitational. So, I asked him if he had played Dirt Rally 2.0 before, and what are his thoughts on the game?

“As I will join the eSport WRX race in Barcelona I would have to start practicing by now,” he said. “But, until today I haven’t done ONE lap on Dirt, so I better get going, haha! I don’t even have a simulator rig yet.”

In addition to asking him about the World RX Esport Invitational. The two-time World Rallycross Champion believes that Esports is a cost-effective way for young drivers to start their motorsport careers.

“I think it's good and a cost-effective way for young drivers to start their career, and for any racing driver to practice and sharpen their skills,” Kristoffersson said. 

With so many motorsport championships recently streaming or broadcasting eSports series/races. Many racing drivers globally have opted to compete in these various races and challenges. And, because Johan does not have a simulator rig as yet. I asked him if he watched any of the recently streamed races. “Normally there is no spare time for anything else other than the preparations I do for my own races. So honestly, I barely watch any other motorsport series other than what I'm currently driving myself at the time.”
The 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination with such a close field, as seen in 2019, but who better than Johan Kristoffersson to take on the might of the Hansen brothers, Andreas Bakkerud and Niclas Grönholm, etc.?  

A very special 'Thank You' to Johan Kristoffersson for taking some time out of his very busy schedule to chat with us. I’d also like to thank Zandra Björkholtz (KMS) for arranging the interview. 

Written By - Junaid Samodien
Co-Editor - Franco Theron (Pedal Fest SA)

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