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.   

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