|PHOTO CREDIT: GRX-SET World RX Team|
Fastest overall in Free Practice to start the weekend, then third and fourth fastest times in Q1 and Q2 placed Niclas Grönholm third at the end of day one, but traffic in Q3 on Sunday morning, followed by a penalty for missing the joker lap in Q4 left the Finn fifth in the Intermediate Classification.
The three-time World RX winner had a great launch from the second row of the grid in the semi-final and immediately took the joker lap, but contact from Peter Hedstrom pushed him into the track markers on the edge of the circuit. And, although he finished in a place good enough to qualify for the final, the Finn was handed a time penalty for hitting the track marker and didn’t make the final.
"On pace, we were a bit better on Sunday than Saturday and made some better launches, we improved quite a lot in that area actually, but unfortunately in Q4 we didn’t take the joker lap and got a penalty. That’s something that can happen quite easily – it was just an honest mistake from us," Grönholm said.
"We had quite a good starting position with good grip for the semi-final so I had a good launch, decided to joker on the first lap because I really didn’t have the chance to go on the normal lap with two cars inside me. It was really slippery in the joker where the track had been watered so I took it carefully, then took a hit from behind and couldn’t really do anything. I couldn’t take the normal route so I had to go across where the track marker was and got a penalty for hitting it and didn’t make the final. I don’t agree with the decision as I had no chance to take the normal line, so I’m a bit upset about that, a lot of points have been lost in the two first race weekends."
Team-mate Krisztián Szabó impressed yet again with solid pace, following a fourth-place finish in the opening round of the season.
Sixth and third on day one put the Hungarian in the fight, before a pair of fourth fastest times on Sunday gave him a front-row start for the semi-finals. Battling throughout both the semi and final he ran as high as third in the final but didn’t have the pace to close out a podium finish and he finished fifth.
"It was a good weekend," he said. "I beat Johan Kristoffersson in our race in Q3 and I was very happy with that performance, that meant a lot to me, but compared to Saturday, Sunday wasn’t so good in general."
"I was hoping for better results on track, even if I was P4 in both Q3 and Q4. I started on the front row for the semi-finals which is something I’ve never achieved before, but for sure I missed something in the semi and final, I don’t know yet what that was but I will sleep on it."
Jussi Pinomäki (team principal) admits that it was yet another difficult weekend for the team, despite new recruit Szabó showing a good turn of speed.
"It was another difficult weekend for us. I’m again pleased with the progress Krisztian is making. With more work he can really challenge in this championship," the Finn said.
The GRX-SET team principal leaves Sweden with a sour taste in his mouth, as he believes Niclas should not have received a penalty for hitting a track marker in the semi-final.
"We totally disagree with the stewards’ decision for Niclas in the semi-final, which put an end to a hard weekend for him that started already in Q1. We fully understand that hitting track markers gets penalized, but when you are pushed there by another car then it is out of your hands," he said. "But, we have had difficult weekends before, and we have already put Holjes to the back of our minds. We have to do a lot better next time in France, and we will!"