Thursday 26 November 2020

"An amazing feeling" to win Teams' Championship in first year as KYB Team JC - Joel Christoffersson.

In a shortened but challenging season, KYB Team JC has come out on top in their maiden season in the FIA World Rallycross Championship. 

Winning a  championship in a maiden season is something very hard to come by for any motorsport team, but this season KYB Team JC was leading from start to finish, and come out on top with their nearest rival only 16 points behind in the 2020 World RX Teams' Championship standings. 

Whilst Johan Kristoffersson led the way in the drivers' championship standings from the get-go, his direct rival Mattias Ekström did not make it easy for him. Winning two events of eight on his way to second in the championship for the third time in his career.

After eight rounds in four different countries, despite the challenges surrounding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the ninth and final round of the World RX set to take place at the Nurburgring in Germany was officially cancelled yesterday handing KYB Team JC the teams' championship. 

JC Raceteknik under the stewardship of Joel Christoffersson enjoyed great success in rallycross through the years having won the European Rallycross Championship last year with Robin Larsson, and four titles in the RallyX Nordic series. However, after acquiring two 2019 specification Audi S1 Quattro's from EKS. The Varmland-based team took a leap to World RX as KYB Team JC in pursuit of the ultimate prize - the drivers' and teams' championships. Whilst they failed to achieve the drivers' title, the teams' title in their first year is an incredible achievement. 

"I started JC Raceteknik in 2014 with a dream to race in the World Championship at some stage, so to already win the Teams’ Championship in the first year of World RX as KYB Team JC is difficult to top," Joel Christoffersson, JC Raceteknik & KYB Team JC, Team Principal, said.

"To be World Champions is an amazing feeling. Before the season this was my goal, and to have led from the start only makes it better! Due to Covid-19, the season started late, and although it is, of course, a shame not to be able to finish and celebrate on-site at the Nurburgring, it feels good to be able to tie the knot."

Robin Larsson returned to World RX after a one-year hiatus with KYB Team JC, and was initially set to be joined by Jānis Baumanis. However, due to budgetary issues linked to the pandemic, the Latvian season would be over before it even started.

Surprise!! It was quite a surprise, as Mattias Ekström returned to the championship after retiring from a full-time drive at the end of the 2018 season. 

But was it a full-time drive in 2020, initially the Swede was signed up for the first double-header of the season, which grew to the second double-header and the rest is history after he negotiated with sponsors and clients to remain racing for the remainder of the season. 

It was quite a season, seeing Mattias closer to Johan Kristoffersson than ever before finishing just 27 points behind the three-time World Champion. 

"Mattias and Robin have done a fantastic job. I think we have given Johan and Kristoffersson Motorsport a good fight this year – we are the team that challenged them the most," Christoffersson said. "Mattias has done what he can throughout the season and we are really happy with his second place in the Drivers’ Championship. This is the first and probably only time he will race in a full season with us and it has been an honour to have him on the team."

"Robin has stepped up and shown that the pace he had in the European Championship last year has continued. Unfortunately, he was both unlucky and made a couple of mistakes of his own, otherwise, I think he would have had a great chance to get top three in the Drivers’ Championship."

The 2020 FIA World Rallycross season has not been easy by any stretch of the imagination. With eight rounds condensed into four weekends, and the slightest mistake not only costing time to repair but it forces teams to put in additional hours. 

This season has also seen KYB Team JC taking the biggest step in performance overnight during the double-header weekends, and despite Kristoffersson getting out of the blocks the quickest, he finished behind Mattias at two events this year, in Sweden (round 2) and Latvia (round 2).

"I’m very grateful for all of the hard work by everyone in KYB Team JC and JC Raceteknik this season. It has not been an easy year for anyone, and everyone has fought really hard," he said. 

"Also a big thank you to all our partners who lined up despite these tough times, without them we would not have been able to take the World Championship title. Now the whole team will reload and work on trying to find a plan for 2021."

Ekström's KYB Team JC Audi Supercar with the Teams' Championship trophy and Vice-Champion trophy.
PHOTO CREDIT: JC Raceteknik.

One could say without Mattias' guidance and experience, the team might not have won the championship this season. As he is not only a master tactician but is also well versed in set-up and improving a race car. Whilst the Swede might not be happy with a second-place finish for the third time, he was a lot closer to the Kristoffersson (the 2020 champion) this year. 

"I got into this season without having a thought of driving rallycross again, and we sit here with the title in the Teams’ Championship and second in the Drivers’ Championship. The only other goal was of course to also win the Drivers' title, but we were simply not fast enough," Ekström said. "Everyone knows Johan's capacity and at the same time as his car is very good, but I think we gave both him and the team a good fight. Then Robin has, in my eyes, taken the biggest step and it has been fun to see his maximum level rise."

The 2016 champion labels the season-opening weekend in Sweden (double-header) and the World RX of Latvia double-header, as the coolest rallycross races of his career having claimed a second-place finish and a win at both events. 

"It has meant a lot to me to compete and have fun again together with JC Raceteknik, driving as a hobby instead of as a factory driver is a huge difference. In Holjes for example I had the coolest rallycross race of my career on Saturday, and then another fantastic Sunday in Riga," he said.

"I think it went better than expected to complete the season despite Coronavirus. We had a little trouble with some things, but that's also part of the rules of the game. It's fun that there are sponsors and companies who are willing to invest even in tougher times, especially since a lot of things have been quite last minute. I am also very proud to see how KYB has developed shock absorbers that can win the World Championship."

The 2019 EuroRX champion Robin Larsson admits that Ekström was very important to the team this season, and he was able to learn from the 2016 champion. 

"Mattias has been very important to the team and to me too. Being able to race in a full World Championship season with him has made me learn things all the time - with setup, driving on the track, and to recharge between races," he said.

The 2020 season has not been the smoothest for Larsson who only brought home a podium finish in Latvia (Riga) despite making the finals at four rounds this year. 

"My season has gone a bit up and down. In Riga, I had very good speed and finished on the podium together with Mattias," Larsson said. "Otherwise, I struggled with small errors and problems that cost a lot, while I also made some mistakes."

"The double-header events have also been difficult and costly if something goes wrong, but it is the same for everyone."

Larsson hoped that the teams' championship would be decided in Germany with a good old fight with the Hansen brothers.

"I would have liked to have decided the season on-site in Germany from a team perspective, where we would have had a battle between us and the Hansen brothers for the title," he said.

Written By - Junaid Samodien

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Kristoffersson left emotional after clinching third title "with our own team".

PHOTO CREDIT: Morgan Carlsson
Johan Kristoffersson has been crowned a three-time FIA World Rallycross Champion following the cancellation of the season finale at the Nurburgring. 

With a healthy 27-point lead to Mattias Ekström with one round to go (in Germany). Johan has been declared the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Champion following the cancellation of the World RX of Germany earlier today. 

Kristoffersson aimed to end the season on a high in Germany, but due to the surge in coronavirus cases in Germany, the season has unfortunately come to a premature conclusion. The 2020 season was set to get underway in April earlier this year but was delayed due to the pandemic, and eventually got underway in August in Höljes, Sweden. 

As the condensed season progressed, it was clear that there would be more double-headers than standalone events, but something that was clear from the get-go was that Johan was hungry for success. He claimed a win at each event and only missed out on a podium in Finland (round 4). 

With news that the planned season was canceled, it meant the season ended with a bang in Barcelona where Johan came out on top with a win. There were four double-headers this season, with the Swede ending on top, just like 2017 and 2018. 

"The first time is obviously something special, and the second title is memorable as I won eleven of twelve rounds. Now, it is emotional because we did it with our own team, where everything started some years ago," Johan Kristoffersson said. 

The 31-year-old Swede admits that it has been a very odd season, and a rather stressful one with him trying to avoid getting infected, as COVID-19 grabbed hold of the world this year. 

"A lot of instructions and restrictions to follow and a bit stressful trying to stay away from the infection. Some people have it without showing symptoms so you never know," he said.

Ahead of the season, Kristoffersson used the RallyX Nordic as a warm-up event in his 2016 KMS built Polo GTI RX. However, for the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship, the Swede hired a 2018 Polo R Supercar from Volkswagen Motorsport. A car that was previously used by Petter Solberg in the 2018 season.

"We hardly believed in it ourselves, but we wouldn't take no for an answer and finally put all the pieces together," he adds.

Johan won four rounds of eight, three of them on Saturdays.

"Throughout the years I have vastly improved my ability to find the pace early on," Kristoffersson said. "You have to do your homework about the grip and style of driving, and so has the rest of the team."

His first win on a Sunday came in the final round of the season in Spain (Barcelona), also the most memorable round in Johan's view.

"The semi-final in Barcelona! We looked beaten all day but turned everything around and for the first time that weekend, I could enjoy the track properly, doing that ahead of Ekström. A great feeling!" he said.

With a third title this season, Johan is officially in a league of his own having broken records throughout his illustrious career. 

A noteworthy achievement was the mind-blowing 11 wins from 12 events in 2018, a feat that any driver could dream of, but with that being said. 

The 2020 World Rallycross Championship season has now come to a premature end, which leaves one question on the table. Will Johan return in 2021 for another title bout? 

"It's too early to say, but it would be great fun!," the three-time World Champion said.

Written By - Junaid Samodien

Kristoffersson and KYB Team JC declared champions as World RX finale is called off.

The final round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship set to take place at the Nürburgring (Germany) on 12-13 December has been cancelled, consequently crowning Johan Kristoffersson as the 2020 World RX drivers' champion and KYB Team JC teams' champions for the 2020 season. 

The 2020 season was due to start in April this year, but due to the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the start of the season was delayed to August. This, in turn, meant that adjustments were made to the calendar, which saw rounds in Norway, France, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, Portugal, and Belgium all cancelled due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

With Germany set to make its debut appearance on the World RX calendar in August, the event was moved to mid-December. 

"In light of continued health concerns regarding COVID-19 (Coronavirus), the organizer of the World Rallycross of Germany, scheduled to take place 12-13 December, has decided to cancel the final event of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross season," the statement from World RX said. "A number of options were explored in the hopes of moving forward with this event, but unfortunately, it was not possible in the end."

Although the Nürburgring proved over recent months that events with spectators also work in the context of infection protection, the situation is now a different one due to the sharp rise in the number of infections in Germany. Thus forcing the cancellation of the 2020 event. However, World RX will return to the Nürburgring in 2021.

"We were all very much looking forward to this premiere at our race track," the Nürburgring Managing Director Mirco Markfort said. "The FIA World Rallycross Championship is an entertaining and action-packed format that further enriches our portfolio. Nevertheless, this decision is essential for the benefit of all involved and their health". 

The cancellation of the World RX of Germany, unfortunately, means that the season has effectively ended at the Barcelona double-header held last month. And with a 27-point lead in the championship standings, Johan Kristoffersson is a World Rallycross Champion for a third time. Whilst KYB Team JC are the 2020 FIA World Rallycross teams' champions.

"We offer our warmest congratulations to Johan and the KYB Team JC for their well-deserved titles,” said Paul Bellamy, Senior Vice President of Motorsports Events at IMG. “We are disappointed we were not able to hold our final event in Germany, but are very proud of the season we were able to produce throughout these unprecedented times, and our deepest gratitude goes to all our event organisers, partners and fans for their patience and continued support through it all."

The EuroRX and Super1600 championships have also ended prematurely following the cancellation of the World RX of Germany, which was set to host a third and final round of the season. However, due to the series not reaching a third round, it means that the season did not meet the FIA championship requirement, and thus no champions will be crowned. 

The premature conclusion of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship also marks the end of an era. An era of growth, success, and global reach that many championships could only dream of, and that all came down to the hard work of IMG, commercial rights holders of the World Rallycross Championship. 

Despite signing a lengthy deal with the FIA to hold the commercial rights to the championship since 2013, the British promoter announced that they will end the agreement at the end of this season. And, whilst the future of World RX remains uncertain with a new promoter, the FIA are currently working to appoint a new promoter for the World RX championship for 2021 and beyond.

Written By - Junaid Samodien

Monday 23 November 2020

A third world title with KMS would be a dream come true – Kristoffersson.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
Two-time World RX champion Johan Kristoffersson is on the verge of a third title with one round remaining in the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship. 

Whilst winning two-titles isn’t as easy as it may seem, winning a third title this season will see the Swede cement his place firmly as an all-time World RX great. 

Kristoffersson has continued to raise the bar each season setting a high target for younger drivers to aim for and beat in the future.

Some may say his Volkswagen Polo R Supercar is a clear step-up above his rivals, and that was true in 2017/18, but making it work and staying consistent is also key to his success on and off track. 

2018 was the year of dominance seeing the Swede claim a mind-blowing 11 wins from 12 rounds, a feat that any other driver could only dream of, but unfortunately, as soon as the joy came. It went following Volkswagen Motorsport and PSRX Volkswagen Sweden’s withdrawal from the championship at the end of that season. It then meant that Johan was left without a seat for the 2019 season, and he’d have to look for a (racing) seat elsewhere. 

Following a year out of the World Rallycross Championship, he announced his return for the 2020 season with a hired Polo Supercar from Volkswagen Motorsport. The Polo came with a new WRC specification low drag rear wing but didn’t undergo any other significant upgrades in the year off. 

Returning for the 2020 season, all the stars aligned for Johan, but unfortunately, the start season was delayed, and some events dropped off the original calendar due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The likes of Portugal, Norway, France, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, and Belgium, which saw the calendar shrink to nine rounds at five European venues. 

Having won a round at each double-header this season, his rivals always seemed to have an edge over him in preparation for the second round just a day later. 

With a limited amount of engineers, mechanics, etc. allowed at any event due to the strict FIA COVID-19 protocol. His rivals were always able to take a step forward, but he would as well. At each event, he was in contention for a race win but some circumstances did not play out the way he had hoped. 

When consistency is key in a fairly short and compact season, Johan has always been in contention for a podium finish and has only ever missed out on a podium finish in Finland where he bagged a fourth-place finish at round four of the championship. 

Compared to previous years, his rivals are a lot closer this season as their supercars have made progress since 2018. But in order to stay ahead of his rivals, he has had to extract the maximum from himself and the car to gain that competitive advantage over his rivals.

“We knew we will have a good chance to fight for the championship. But there are so many things to overcome during the season and the job has to be done both from me as a driver and the team making no mistakes whatsoever,” Kristoffersson said. “The other teams have definitely improved since 2018 and the fight is very close.”

“But we haven’t retired from a single race of the season and haven’t even had a puncture. I’ve always done decent starts and stayed out of contact as much as possible.”

In the pursuit of perfection, sportsmen (drivers or athletes) often analyze data and review footage of previous events in an attempt to see what happened in the past and how they can beat these odds. Kristoffersson does just that but what sets him apart is that he not only analyzes his data, but also watches onboards of rivals to study how they manage certain situations to learn from it, and if presented with that particular situation immediately know how to deal with it. The Swede also looks at statistics to help him with decision making over the course of a race weekend. 

PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World Rallycross Championship.
“It’s always good to have a look at previous years before heading to a race. Both in terms of tire and joker tactics and study how your opponents use to play the game to be as prepared as possible,” the double World Champion said. 

In 2017-18, he joined forces with double World RX champion Petter Solberg, and after two dominant years, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden withdrew from the championship at the end of the 2018 season meaning that Johan would not have a seat for the 2019 season. He returned as an independent entrant this year with Kristoffersson Motorsport, and can only rely on his knowledge and data, as well as that of his crew in order to find improvements. Whilst his rivals this season have two-car teams which help with data collection and testing different set-up options. This in turn puts them at an immediate advantage. But we have seen this season that Johan has been the quickest on track, whilst KYB Team JC made the most significant improvements overnight.  

In order to stay ahead of the field on a double-header weekend, improvements made overnight is quite important. These improvements come from driver feedback, data,  onboard footage, and tyre strategy, but this season one-car teams have been at a larger disadvantage compared to that two-car teams who were able to share data and set-ups. 

KYB Team JC’s Mattias Ekstrom is seen as a master tactician and has taken a big step forward on the second round of each double-header weekend, and has won two events to date. 

PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World RX Championship. 
With one-car, an engineer, mechanics, and a spotter, Johan is at a slight disadvantage, but he looks on the bright side, and only focuses on how he can extract the best of the team and himself. 

“I’m always trying to focus on doing my best and the team's best possible, and not thinking to much of what my opponents are thinking and planning to do. What I feel is the most difficult with being a one-car team is the limited data we collect in terms of set-up, track conditions, launch settings,” he explains. “Petter Solberg and I worked very well together in 2017 and 2018, and I have learned a lot back then which I can use now, plus I have the same engineer Richard Browne that makes it a bit easier.”

Some might say Johan Kristoffersson is only as good because of the car he drives, but the statistics suggest otherwise. He is constantly seeking perfection and with the performance always seems to put in, he is reaching an entirely new level of performance which sets him apart from many other drivers. 

Having had no. 1 on his car for two years, this season he has had to settle for no.3, which immediately ties with what he's on the verge of achieving this season. A third world title. The Swede has always been aware of the challenges he would face this season, but admits it would be a dream come true should he win the title with Kristoffersson Motorsport (KMS). 

“That was our aim for the season, but we knew it going to be tough. It’s a very different atmosphere within our private family-based team compared to PSRX which was a much bigger team, and with two cars,” he said. “But winning the title with my boys from KMS would be so cool and a dream come true since we started with rallycross back in 2013.”

PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World RX Championship.

Earlier this month, the penultimate round of the World RX championship at Spa-Francorchamps was canceled due to an increase in Coronavirus cases in Belgium, which means with only one round remaining in the World RX championship in Germany (in December). 

And, with one round remaining and 30 points up for grabs. The championship leader, Johan only requires four points to be crowned champion for the third time. 

It’s not within a racing driver's DNA to let off the gas one little bit. And, despite being within arms reach of the 2020 title, he still aims to approach the season finale with a winning mentality. He will go “Flat out! With an aim to finish on a high!” Ending this season on a high will lay strong groundwork for the season to come. 

With all the challenges in the world this year, in life, there are always changes, but one we didn’t quite expect was the announcement that World RX promoters, IMG would be stepping away from the series at the end of the 2020 season. 

IMG laid the groundwork for a very successful championship since 2013, one that allowed fans from across the world to gain free access to events via live streaming, gain great access to the drivers, and more, which is so hard to come by in many other motorsport series. 

If and when a new promoter does take over the World RX championship, Johan Kristoffersson would like to see the promoter get rid of the random qualifying draw. “Well, I’ve never liked the random draw, I just don’t like random,” he said. “Other than that I think the sport itself doesn’t need many changes.”

The world is going green, and so will World RX as it switches from internal combustion engines to electric powertrains in 2022. A change that will take some time for diehard petrolheads to get used to, but Johan has offered the new promoters some advice on how they should approach the development of the cars, etc. as they usher in a new era of World RX.

“If and when it goes electric, I think it's very important that the cars should be extreme, difficult for the drivers to control and faster than current cars,” he adds. “With the lack of anti-lag sound, the fans need something extra to make it exciting!”

Written By – Junaid Samodien

In collaboration with The Pitcrew Online.   

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Spa World RX of Benelux CANCELLED due to the resurgence of the coronavirus.

PHOTO CREDIT: GC Kompetition
The next round of the World Rallycross Championship, the Spa World RX of Benelux in Belgium has been cancelled due to the resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, the organisers announced.

The cancellation comes after news broke that the penultimate round of the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship was cancelled due to the resurgence of the coronavirus. 

Spa's World RX of Benelux was originally set to take place in May, before it was moved to October and then to November with an aim to allow a bigger audience to attend the penultimate round of the championship. 

However, due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Belgium and Europe, the organizers announced last week that the event will be held behind closed doors, but it has now changed following the cancellation of the championship round at Spa-Francorchamps. 

"The current health situation in Belgium and throughout Europe has forced the organisers into taking this joint decision," the statement issued by the circuit said. "The Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, IMG, and the FIA are in fact very mindful of the progression or development of the pandemic and the extremely tense situation in the hospitals."

"Furthermore, the various restrictive measures taken recently by several governments, such as those relating to travel, make the situation extremely complicated for holding the Spa World Rallycross of Benelux."

Spa-Francorchamps joined the World Rallycross Championship in 2019 and quickly became a fan favorite with its wide banked dirt hairpin and use of the legendary Eau Rouge/Raidillon. 

Whilst Timur Timerzyanov claimed his first-ever win in the world championship, ahead of Andreas Bakkerud and Joni Wiman.  

"This decision is related to an exceptional situation and even if this saddens all the teams who have worked so hard to hold this second edition, announced last week moreover to be held behind closed doors following the deterioration in the public health situation, our priority is and will remain the health of safety of everyone," Nathalie Maillet, the Circuit CEO, said.

In addition to the cancellation announcement, the circuit has also announced that it expects to host the second edition of the Spa World RX of Benelux on May 22-23, 2021. 

The cancellation of the penultimate round of the season means that the final round of the 2020 World RX season is expected to take place at the Nürburgring in December (later this year). 

This in turn means that with a maximum of 30 points available for the final round of the championship, that should Johan Kristoffersson outscore Mattias Ekstrom by four points, he will be crowned a three-time World Champion. 

Whilst KYB Team JC (with a 16 point lead) would seal the teams' championship in Germany should they finish ahead of the Team Hansen. 

Written By - Junaid Samodien