There’s an air of inevitability when Johan Kristoffersson competes in the World Rallycross Championship. You just know, one way or another, he’ll find a way to win.
It’s been all change in World RX this year. A new format, and a new electric formula, but the driver at the head of the standings remains the same.
For the fifth time, Kristoffersson is on top of the rallycross world.
He wins so much that it’s become a habit. Could we dare suggest that it may even become boring?
“No it doesn’t. It really doesn’t,” Kristoffersson tells DirtFish.
“It’s a little bit like when you get into the groove of physical training, like when you get into the rhythm, when you’re in that groove and in that momentum of doing training every day, and then you get a break of a couple of weeks and you don’t train at all, you have no hunger at all to go out for training.
“But when you are in the groove and you have the momentum, you just want to keep going and you want to continue to train and it’s the same with winning.
“For me, it gets me working even harder because that feeling of winning is some kind of drug. I realize if you compare this season to last season in the Audi, we had such a hard start to the season.
“We had technical issues, and we had some breakdowns, and I made some mistakes, getting a puncture in the semifinal in Höljes and the championship looked to be really really tough to win.
“But then also you feel, when it gets a little bit uphill you have to fight harder to get the work done. When you are winning, everything is so much easier to spend your hours on, and do analysis.
“And it’s almost like you find more things to analyze because you enjoy it so much. And of course, analyzing things when you’ve done well is so much more fun to do than when you haven’t done so well,” he adds with a laugh.
“If I’m going for a competition and a championship in any race and any competition in life, I always look to try and do my best and look to get a win.
“That’s always the target and always what I’m working for so the day I feel that I don’t enjoy winning that much any more – and when you cross the finish line winning the fifth championship or fourth or third is not the same as when you won the first one.
“[But] it’s still so nice and you don’t get as emotional when you cross the finish line as when you cross the first one, but the feeling inside is still so strong that you will always try to keep working for it – and the day I feel that it doesn’t matter so much if I finish P2 or P1, that’s the day I will stop I think.”
Kristoffersson winning the championship is something we’re all used to seeing, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s had an easy ride.
“No definitely not,” he says. “With all the new stuff, we built a completely brand new car that we had no experience from before.”
The completely brand-new car he speaks of has been something of an outlier so far this year. While rival teams opted to electrify their existing machines, Kristoffersson’s family outfit built a trio of brand new vehicles based on Volkswagen’s R5 rally car platform.
“I had a lot of confidence with the guys building the car – they have a lot of experience and experience with the R5 car which the car is based on, but as the build went on, the more we realized we had to change the car from an R5 car,” Kristoffersson explains.
“So in the end it’s far away from a standard Polo R5 and that got me a little bit worried because there were so many unknowns and so many new parts produced which we could never [do] endurance testing of the car to see that the parts were reliable and all of that stuff. So that was definitely a little bit of a worry.”
In a somewhat surprising admission, given his level of dominance this year (winning all but two rounds so far), Kristoffersson admitted that “if I could choose before the season, and when I was on the start line of the first race, I would definitely choose the more safe option to have a car that I knew from before”.
“There is some huge advantages to having the old car with being able to have lighter uprights, lighter subframes and stuff like that and on the R5 regulation, that path that we chose to follow, you need to match the cost cap, you need to match the minimum weight of subframes, and uprights and stuff like that,” he adds.
“But like I said, I had full confidence in the guys that built the car and designed the car and I think, with the limited amount of testing that we had, we were quick to adapt to the new electric system, how to set up the car for the new electric package.
“We knew it was going to be tight because everybody had the same battery, everybody had the same drivetrain, so in the end it’s four wheels and a steering wheel and the rest is more-or-less the same, so it’s very important to have the right setup for the right track at the right moment.”
Getting that right setup is, of course, crucial in all forms of motorsport. But when you consider that World RX has easily one of the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ grids on the planet when it comes to driver talent, it amplifies that.
“There was so many unknowns but we knew that the field was going to be tight, especially because the Hansens have a lot of experience in rallycross and have a lot of experience of building cars and they used a car that they know very well from previous years and they are two great drivers.
“And the Grönholm team, they also used a car from previous years so they knew the car quite well from before.
“The field is not big but it’s very competitive. The last couple of years, it’s the guys that have been in the top positions which are still there so of course it would be nice to have some more of the big names like [Mattias] Ekström, Petter [Solberg], [Sébastien] Loeb, [Ken] Block, but yeah, the competition at the top is still very high so it definitely hasn’t been easy.”
Kristoffersson says his team “did very good homework in a very short period of time during the winter,” and that of course led to him being top of the class for all of the first four races, before adding another three wins across the Belgium and Barcelona weekends. The latter secured the title with one weekend and two rounds still to go.
“That was an absolutely amazing day for me,” he says of the second Barcelona round. “To be able to pace one second quicker than any other competitor on track during more-or-less every outing, that is hard to beat.
“It’s one of those days that you don’t experience many of in your career as a driver, so that was one. It’s a nice way to win, a nice way to seal a championship with a win.”
As every heat is so crucial, some of the ideas you don’t dare to test because you want to be a little bit on the safe sideJohan Kristoffersson
But while his remarkable pace in Barcelona was a clear highlight, Kristoffersson also points out the tense battles he had with the Hansen brothers in Latvia as another high point of his season. Beaten into the first corner in both finals that weekend, Kristoffersson left it late to grab the upper-hand.
“When I exited T1 in P2 and P3, then in one lap on both days I managed to get the upper-hand on Kevin [Hansen] on both days on only one lap. To win just on the finish line, when you know that you have one lap and you’re able to nail that lap, and to have the confidence in the car and the driving to push to that limit and then be able to take the win, that was very nice.”
But while the championship might have been decided, there’s one last double-header World RX weekend to contest. And it’s something that – with the title wrapped up – will be rather different for Kristoffersson.
There’s no boiling pressure to win. Instead the order of business at the Nürburgring will be enjoying it and having one eye on 2023 while helping team-mate Ole Christian Veiby maximize his return on the year.
“As we have such a limited amount of testing, everything you learn during the season and want to try, we have to do on track. And as every heat is so crucial, some of the ideas you don’t dare to test because you want to be a little bit on the safe side.
“So now, both in Barcelona – we did some tests on my car to try and develop and try some ideas – and even more now in the Nürburgring before the 2023 season we can test some things in some directions that we’d like to develop the car during the winter.
“It’s great to be able to test and get some answers now before the winter to know what kind of path to choose, what direction to take for next year.
“And then for myself, I will be focused on trying to help Ole Christian as much as possible to seal a top-three position in the drivers’ championship. That’s our target.
“Then on top of all of this, just trying to enjoy a rallycross event. Just enjoy the pure enjoyment of driving these cars around a rallycross track. When the pressure’s on you don’t always have the time to enjoy it as much as you would like to.
“For me I really like rallycross because first of all there is no BOP (balance of performance), which I’m kind of allergic to,” he says with a slight laugh, alluding to the performance-equalling formula used in series such as the World Touring Car Cup where he spent his World RX hiatus in 2019. “And also the cars are so fast and it’s just pure fun to drive them.
“There’s not so many race cars that you just enjoy driving on your own, but when you have four laps in free practice and you have those four laps to just play around with the car and just enjoy the driving, there’s not many other motorsports that I’ve driven that are that fun.”