Wednesday, 9 February 2022

INTERVIEW - Kristoffersson "always believed" a fourth title was possible despite points deficit in final round.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
In recent years, fans have been spoilt with the opportunity to witness true greats at their peaks, the likes of Sebastien Ogier, Marc Marquez, Johan Kristoffersson, and Lewis Hamilton.

Athletes whether it be in racing or athletics, they tend to push themselves to higher levels in order to succeed in life because as we all know “success is not given, it’s earned!”. Something four-time World Champion Johan Kristoffersson knows all too well having broken every record in the book, and set a couple of new records. 

A career that spanned over seven seasons in the FIA World Rallycross Championship has seen the Swede claim four titles in 67 starts, 27 wins, and 78 qualifying heat wins, a record yet to be beaten. 

Some may argue that Johan’s success can be attributed to the very competitive Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R that he raced from 2017 to 2018, but recently without factory support, we’ve seen the championship-winning Swede show his incredible talents fighting for victories against the stiffest of competition in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. 

The fightback last year (2021), may have been his hardest to date having had to overcome a number of issues, from reliability to penalties for infringements of the regulations. But, the multiple World Champion did not let that phase him any one bit, despite being 28-points down after the first three rounds. He kept focused and went on to claim a first victory of the season at round 5 in Latvia, which would turn his season around completely. 

With two rounds remaining in the 2021 campaign, 17 points were the difference between Timmy Hansen and Kristoffersson, it seemed like a very tall order, but there is no discounting a determined Champion who approached the weekend in a very calm manner. 

The pressure was on, and it immediately reared its head, as championship leader Timmy Hansen was disqualified from the semi-final for an incident with Niclas Gronholm meaning Kristoffersson would have the opportunity to narrow the points gap, which he did successfully.

One round to go, and just four points splitting the top two, it was Kristoffersson who would prevail in the very last race of the season with a third-place finish to clinch a fourth World Title on countback, a scene last-seen in 2019 where Timmy Hansen came out on top.  

Fresh from clinching another championship, Kristoffersson had more work on his hands. The Rosberg Xtreme Racing team were leading the Extreme E championship ahead of X44’s Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez Herrero, but with a clear strategy, Kristoffersson and team-mate Molly Taylor kept it clean in the final and finished the season on equal points, meaning they claimed the inaugural Extreme E championship by virtue of more event wins. 

With a few months to reflect on, his incredible achievements, Johan Kristoffersson has already confirmed his plans for the coming year. The Swede will return to defend his World RX title with family-run Kristoffersson Motorsport under the banner Volkswagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS and return to Extreme E with the Rosberg Xtreme Racing team. 

We sat down with the four-time World Champion to talk all things World Rallycross, from the new electric era to the car he will race in 2022 and more… 

JS: Congratulations on achieving your fourth World Championship. Did you think winning the title was possible heading into the final round with a 17-point deficit to Timmy Hansen?

Johan Kristoffersson: “I always believed that winning would be possible because in motorsport anything can happen.”

In any sport, pressure can make or break an individual, but as we’ve seen through the years. You are always cool, calm, collected, and focused. It may be a strange question to ask, but do you ever feel pressure or feel pressured heading into a race weekend? And, how do you keep focused and calm?

JK: “The pressure I put on myself is more between the race weekends, as I want to be as well prepared as I can be when I’m on the race weekend.”

“On the race weekend, I can only do my best and hope that the preparation I’ve done is good enough. And most important, don’t forget to have fun!”

Fun is always forgotten when you are in the heat of a tense championship battle, but that’s quite an interesting point. 

You have had some rather unfortunate incidents last season, whether it be the disconnection of your data logger (DSQ) or mechanical issues that cost you valuable points. 

How do you as a driver approach each race weekend knowing that you had a points deficit and need to start gaining points on your rival?

JK: “I analyze previous race weekends, adjust and try to do better in the next race. That’s it, I can’t do more than my best.” 

Kristoffersson leading rival Timmy Hansen.
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
Having driven Volkswagen machinery for most of his career. Kristoffersson took the leap, and joined the KYB EKS JC squad in 2021, a story that all started after Mattias Ekström published an April Fools’ post on his social media channels that Johan would race for his team, and that was how the whole conversation started.

Being so accustomed to Volkswagen Supercars, adaption to something new is not always easy. So, how hard was it to take a step into new machinery with so many different components? And, where changes were made to cater to his driving style? 

JK: “Some adaptations were made to the car and my driving. We had a very good team around the car with a mix of people I’ve worked with before, which makes it easy to quickly understand each other, and EKS JC had a lot of experience with the car. That together made it easier to get comfortable quickly, and we showed brilliant speed already at round one in Barcelona.”

The title G.O.A.T. is something not many can claim, but those who can are the Greatest of All Time in their respective fields. The acronym is often used to praise exceptional athletes from the many different disciplines, namely: Michael Schumacher, Michael Jordan, Sebastien Loeb, Muhammad Ali, Sebastien Ogier, Valentino Rossi, Lewis Hamilton, etc. 

In recent years, it’s pretty clear that we’ve witnessed the emergence of a new G.O.A.T., in the form of Johan Kristoffersson. A driver who has surpassed all the records set in the championship since its inaugural season in 2014. 

Kristoffersson has rewritten the rallycross history books with all his successes on and off-track, which clearly makes him a "Greatest Of All Time" in World RX. Does this title mean anything to you, or do you thinking of it at all?

JK: “It means nothing! I do think about it, but I would rather like to continue collecting more trophies in World RX. That is my main focus!”

With the formal confirmation of your return in 2022 with one of three Volkwagen Dealerteam BAUHAUS cars. Could you give us any clue on the body shell that your team will use in the new electric era of World RX?

JK: “Our car will be a modified electric Volkswagen Polo R5.”

Kristoffersson last raced a Volkswagen Polo R5 at the 2021 WRC - Arctic Rally Finland where he finished fifth in class (27th overall). 

Many fans have been apprehensive about the full switch to electric power in rallycross. How do you feel about the move? 

JK: “It will be a very challenging year with so many new things in the regulations. Both for drivers and the teams building the cars. I think the racing on track will be closer than ever because every team will use the same battery pack and powertrain.”

“Hopefully, World RX will attract more manufacturers and top-level drivers to make the series as good as it deserves to be in my opinion.”

2021 Extreme E Champions - Rosberg Xtreme Racing: Kristoffersson and Taylor.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rosberg Xtreme Racing.
You’ve competed in World RX, RallyX Nordic, STCC, Gymkana Grid, to name a few, but last year, we saw you make the most to something completely different, Extreme E. It was a challenging season with thrills and spills, but you and Molly Taylor came out on top and clinched the inaugural championship for the Rosberg Xtreme Racing Team. Did you find it challenging to make the switch from rallycross to the off-road Extreme E series? And, if you could explain, what were the biggest challenges that you faced with the switch?

JK: “The Extreme E car is a lot heavier and bigger than I’ve ever driven before, and as you know I’ve never done off-road racing. It was very difficult to judge and understand the terrain that the car could and could not handle. As off-road use to be a bit more long-distance race, Extreme E is very much a sprint race and every tenth of a second counts. Sharing the car with Molly [Taylor] was also a new experience and switching drivers during the race was a challenge. In the end, all turned out good and we, manage to win!”

A new era of World RX awaits with new opportunities, but one thing is for sure, the name Johan Kristoffersson will be right up there setting new records.

No comments:

Post a Comment