World Rallycross Championship leader Johan Kristoffersson completed a clean sweep of qualifying as the series returned to Kouvola in Finland for the first time since 2014.
The Volkswagen driver comfortably won Q1 by setting the fastest four-lap cumulative time of the day of two minutes 44.638s. Track watering between later sessions countered track evolution as the morning went on.
Kristoffersson’s chief title rival Mattias Ekström ended qualifying in second, having won his opening heat race and going second fastest in Q1 and Q2. While he could match Kristoffersson on one-lap pace, his cumulative times couldn’t match the two-time champion.
Contact from Niclas Grönholm in Q3 also prevented Ekström from overhauling Kristoffersson at the final hurdle, but it wasn’t enough to completely undo his morning.
Third went to reigning World RX Champion Timmy Hansen, who began the day with his first race win of 2020 in Q1. The Team Hansen Peugeot driver struggled last time out in Höljes but was a fixture in the top five all morning in Kouvola.
The local contingent was well represented in qualifying with wildcard driver Juha Rytkönen finishing in impressive fourth with a heat win to his name. The Finnish national champion, making his World RX debut this weekend, was also the fastest driver during the first run of practice.
Rytkönen bested fellow Hyundai runner Grönholm, who was the driver that came closest to beating Kristoffersson all morning. Despite turn one contact from Timmy Hansen, which also resulted in him tagging Ekström, Grönholm was miraculously able to hold on and kept the pressure on Kristoffersson until the final lap when his charge was derailed by a right-rear puncture.
He was able to hold on to finish third on the road, and set the seventh-fastest four-lap time of the session.
Robin Larsson fought back from a hard battle in Q1 and a brief trip into the turn one gravel trap in Q2 to go second quickest in Q3 – a time that would have been enough to win in Q2.
That cemented his place in sixth overall, ahead of Andreas Bakkerud and Kevin Hansen, with Timur Timerzyanov making up for slow runs in Q1 and Q2 – the first due to a combination of traffic and a green track, the second due to a tire rub after contact with Kevin Abbring – to dominate his Q3 heat and lock himself into the semi-finals with ninth overall.
Timo Scheider, Anton Marklund, and another local wildcard, Jere Kalliokoski claimed the final transfer spots to advance to the semi-finals.
The biggest absence from the semi-finals will be Liam Doran, who looked to have found a solution to the mechanical woes that blighted both of his rounds at Höljes last weekend.
The Brit, who claimed his first European Supercar win at this very track, made a rapid start to his Q1 heat and finished third, being beaten by his RX Cartel team-mate Bakkerud by just a tenth of a second.
In Q2 and Q3 he again made strong starts, but a half-spin after contact with the wall at the penultimate corner in the former, and contact with Abbring that resulted in a broken wheel rim in the latter resulted in two retirements and no chance of advancing.
It was a similarly trying morning for Abbring, drafted in late on to replace Rokas Baciuška in an attempt to solve the lack of pace in the GCK Renault Clio R.S. RXs.
The former World Rally Championship campaigner was beaten on pure pace by fellow GCK driver Marklund in Q1, while another slow run in Q2 and a retirement after the contact with Doran in Q3 compounded his woes.
Intermediate points after Q3
1 Kristoffersson (Volkswagen) 150
2 Ekström (Audi) 126
3 T Hansen (Peugeot) 121
4 Rytkönen (Hyundai) 118
5 Grönholm (Hyundai) 115
6 Larsson (Audi) 114
7 Bakkerud (Renault) 114
8 K Hansen (Peugeot) 112
9 Timerzyanov (Hyundai) 103
10 Scheider (Seat) 101