As DirtFish places its planned WhatsApp call to Tom Kristensson, from the outset his enthusiasm becomes obvious. And infectious.
“I’m the happiest man in the world,” he says in such a joyful way it’s impossible to argue with.
Kristensson is the reigning Junior World Rally Champion, and is about to embark on a WRC2 campaign in the M-Sport stable alongside Adrien Fourmaux and Martin Prokop.
“The feeling to drive for M-Sport in WRC2, it is massive; I’m so proud,” he adds.
“For me to have contact with this kind of team, to get this opportunity because WRC2 isn’t anything you can just buy into you need to be chosen by the team, and to be able to show my pace and my profile I suppose it’s just mega, it’s massive.
“It’s more than a dream coming true, it’s absolutely fantastic.”
Kristensson has worked harder than most to get here. His story is one of dogged determination, raw talent and sacrifice as he has put every ounce of his being into making a career out of rallying.
It all began in 2010 as a fresh-faced 19-year-old on local, Swedish rallies behind the wheel of what Kristensson describes as “the oldest Volvo you could imagine”.
“I had absolutely no thinking to have some kind of career in rally or something like this,” he explains.
“Then I realized that I could drive, I could do some times on stage and I could make some results.”
You watch yourself and think ‘come on, there are six spare wheels in my stomach, I need to do something'Tom Kristensson on his body transformation
This wasn’t an instant process however, as it wasn’t until 2016 that Kristensson left Sweden and his Volvo behind and headed to Germany for the Opel Rallye Cup.
One-make series are always a fantastic way for a driver to prove their potential, and the prize on offer in the Opel Adam series was sensational: a year in the European Rally Championship with the works Opel Junior team.
Kristensson won the Cup in 2017, and then his career started to snowball.
“I had a big, big dream to be a factory driver,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was possible yet still I worked on it, and then I was a factory driver for Opel.
“Then that season was ending, and I was having a big dream to just start one rally in Junior WRC and now I have done two seasons of it and also won the championship so at the moment I am so much higher than I could expect in my best dreams!
“It’s just unbelievable, totally crazy that Tom Kristensson from my small village in Sweden is doing something like this. It’s unbelievable, totally.”
Unlike some drivers in the world of rallying however, Kristensson doesn’t have the luxury of a limitless chequebook. He seldom enjoyed vacations as a child, and as the youngest child in the family was often wearing hand-me-down clothes.
Everything he has achieved he has really had to graft for, including a massive personal transformation during his Opel Cup years when he managed to lose an incredible 50kg of body weight in 18 months.
“I was standing there wondering if I should go with one or two spare wheels and then you watch yourself and think ‘come on, there are six spare wheels in my stomach, I need to do something,’” Kristensson recalls.
“It was actually before the season that I started to work because I realized this was not going to work in the future and I really wanted to do something about it and to be honest I’m still working on it, I still want to go down more kilos.
“I’m running five days a week and trying to do everything I can to have the body in a good shape. That was a really important thing that I did to make this possible, for sure.”
The other thing he had to do of course was drive. Luckily, this has proved far less of a hurdle for Kristensson.
His talent became clear to a wider audience in 2018 during that season in the Junior ERC with Opel. Although he was ultimately beaten to the title by team-mate Mārtiņš Sesks, Kristensson won a third of the rallies – as many as Sesks – to miss out on the title by just seven points.
Junior WRC then beckoned in 2019 and again he would win twice throughout the season in Sweden and Finland, but was ultimately pipped to the crown by Jan Solans. This didn’t worry Kristensson too deeply however who knew this was a learning year, so winning would’ve been a complete bonus.
However the pressure was on to deliver in 2020 as it was Kristensson’s last shot in the series as in 2021, he would’ve been too old to compete. The Swede aced it, winning three of the four rallies in his Ford Fiesta Rally4.
Kristensson believes his 2020 season was “absolutely definitely” his finest in a rally car to date.
“We were actually in the lead in Estonia when the engine was broken as well,” he points out.
It was so much emotion and so many things that you are thinking about at that momentTom Kristensson on winning Junior WRC
“I don’t think I could’ve done that season much better than that, we were showing what we had to do and we did it and I’m very happy and proud for that season and the commitment that we had during that season.”
The world championship success provoked some heart-warming scenes at the end of the Monza Rally as Kristensson leapt up onto the roof of his Fiesta in jubilation. This is common practice for drivers after they’ve won a rally, but it was a real release of emotion for Kristensson after all the work he had put in to get there.
“It’s all these hours I’ve spent on doing this to come where I am today,” he says.
“I went down 50kg in body to make all this money from doing sponsorship and sponsor events, all this time that I’ve spent on this very, very big dream to do something like this, that’s the reason why my voice was crashing on the roof.
“It was so much emotion and so many things that you are thinking about at that moment so it’s just impossible to explain it or to show it in some way so it was amazing, totally.”
In many respects however the hard work has just begun. Kristensson hasn’t stopped searching for budget and partners since winning the Junior title in December, and admits he has had over 100 meetings (at the time of our conversation) with companies and potential partners.
The budget to compete in Junior WRC is already quite high, but that figure is all but doubled to step up into WRC2. While Kristensson does now have a Ford Fiesta Rally2 all to himself as a prize for becoming Junior Champion, he still needs to fund everything else.
“I was almost falling over off the chair, ‘holy f****** s*** this is absolutely crazy’,” Kristensson says of learning the budget he needed for the year, “but from that point I took the decision that I want to do this and the only thing I can do is to work my a** off to make it happen.
“I have had 107 meetings with companies and supporters since Monza. It’s heavy work, it is really heavy work and I’ve found the base for the season now so I’m very, very happy for that and it feels really good.
“But for sure I need to think how I do this season because I really can’t do too many mistakes as then I will struggle to make the whole season but still [considering] what I have done from Monza to today, maybe I can produce something!”
All of this effort will become more than worthwhile when Kristensson takes the start of Rally Croatia this month. And doing so with M-Sport is a real accolade.
As he himself said earlier “you need to be chosen by the team” for such a privilege, and Kristensson will be able to learn from the team’s engineers and his team-mates throughout the season.
It’s a season that will take Kristensson from Croatia to Portugal, Estonia, Finland, Belgium, Spain and then hopefully Japan “if it goes good”.
His choice of program is relatively self-explanatory as he can utilize a free entry for rounds the 2021 Junior WRC heads to, meaning Croatia, Portugal, Estonia, Belgium and Spain become no-brainers to contest.
Kristensson feels Croatia – a rally new to the WRC this year – is the ideal starting point.
“I think this is good. I watched historic [videos] from the Croatia Rally and I think I like the character of the stages and the character of the country, I think that’s actually really, really nice.
“I think I will enjoy that rally. There are different things you enjoy between different surfaces and I really enjoy to drive on asphalt so that will be great to start with.”
His preparation will be absolute too as he Kristensson will give the new Ford Fiesta Rally3 its competitive asphalt debut on Rally Sanremo this weekend. This will also be Kristensson’s first ever rally in a four-wheel-drive car.
Then, he will test a Fiesta Rally2 two days later before doing the official pre-event test in his own car on the Monday before Rally Croatia.
“I am trying to be very prepared,” he says before explaining his excitement to drive the Rally3 Fiesta in anger.
“I think it’s brilliant thing that they [M-Sport Poland] have done because it is a really big step between the Rally4 and the Rally2 and that was the plan from the beginning.
“In the Rally3 Fiesta you have everything that you are missing in the Rally4 Fiesta. You have more power from the engine, the brakes are better and everything so you’re not missing anything when you come to a Rally3 car but many people compare it to a Rally2 car and that’s actually not so honest to do.
“This Rally3 car is perfect when you come from a Rally4 car but to compare it to Rally2 it’s a little bit too hard.
The only thing I will do this season is to enjoy every centimeter I can drive in this kind of car.Tom Kristensson on his 2021 targets
“It’s a brilliant car, it’s a brilliant class,” he adds. “I think it’ll be very successful and if I was in a situation where I could drive a season with a Rally3 car that could definitely be an option for me, definitely.”
But what of his forthcoming season in a Rally2? What will constitute a good season for Kristensson and his new co-driver David Arhusiander?
“The only thing I will do this season is to enjoy every centimeter I can drive in this kind of car in these circumstances.
“It is fantastic for me to do a season in WRC2 and it’s fantastic for me to drive a Rally2 Fiesta supported by M-Sport and I know by myself that the only way I can do this so successfully like I want is to focus on what I’m doing now: focusing on being happy, focusing on enjoying driving.
“If I start to think I need to do a result, I need to be fast, I need to do all this then everything is starting to be too big pressure for me and that will end up in a bad result so that’s the reason I’m focusing like this.”
If anyone can make this opportunity work, it’s Kristensson. The gravity of the situation is not lost on him – particularly with such esteemed class rivals in the shape of Andreas Mikkelsen and Mads Østberg – but the 29-year-old hasn’t worked this hard to suddenly start fading into the background now.