As the World Rallycross Championship heads to Germany for its much-delayed maiden visit to the Nürburgring this weekend, two things will come to an end: the era of combustion-engine cars racing at rallycross’ top level in Europe, and this year’s titanic title fight.
Five drivers (which very well could’ve been six had Kevin Abbring not sat out of the last round) remain in with a shout of claiming what will no doubt be a historic title as we bid farewell to the pops and bangs. This weekend is also a double header event, meaning a huge 60 points are on the table.
Here we take a look through each of the five contenders and their seasons so far:
Krisztián Szabó (127pts)
It’s fair to say that Krisztián Szabó is very much the championship outsider going into this weekend. It would take a tremendous amount of bad luck for the other drivers on this list for Szabó to be crowned World RX’s first non-Scandinavian champion.
The Hyundai driver has continued to improve over the course of this season, with him finally getting that podium monkey off his back at Spa-Francorchamps. In fact, only three of the five contenders have been in every final this season, and he’s one of them, such has been the strength and consistent level of his driving this year.
But he’s also the only one of the five without a win this year – or in his career for that matter – and that definitely plays against him.
Niclas Grönholm (149pts)
Super fast, but took a while to get going this season. Two eighth places at the beginning of the year left many thinking that Niclas Grönholm was in for another disappointing season after failing to deliver on his promise last season where many had tipped him for the title.
An upturn in form in France was followed by a first win of the year in Latvia – another double header weekend and one where he emerged as top scorer over the two days with a second place on the Sunday. A third eighth place in Belgium didn’t help his case, but a second win of the season in Portugal most certainly did.
He’s definitely got the weakest single results of the five, but on his day Grönholm is pretty much unbeatable. He’s going to need a Latvia-like weekend in Germany to be in with a shout.
Kevin Hansen (159pts)
Starting the year with a well-deserved first on-the-road win in Barcelona, it left many wondering if 2021 was the younger Hansen brother’s year after Timmy’s championship success two years ago.
He subsequently finished second to his brother in the next two events, ceding the championship lead in the process, but along with Timmy he’s had a remarkable season, only finishing off the podium once – and that was still a final appearance at the second Latvia race.
Kevin Hansen’s an excellent team player, often shadowing his elder brother in perfectly executed races, but could that be his downfall? He’s more than capable of being a champion in his own right, and would definitely be a deserving winner, but his one victory to his main rivals’ two so far isn’t helping his case.
Johan Kristoffersson (161pts)
Getting to the end of a race season with two wins, a third place and a points haul good enough for second would be a big positive for virtually any driver, but for the once unbeatable Johan Kristoffersson, it’s been something of a disappointment.
Split from his World Rally Championship-derived Volkswagen for the first time since 2017, the three-time champion has had to adapt to the Audi S1 – a potent weapon in its own right.
But after a round one podium finish, Kristoffersson went three races without a rostrum appearance, the longest barren run since he won his first title in 2017. In two of those three races he didn’t even make the final – since ’17 that had only happened once.
Yes, he’s won twice in the last three rounds (losing a podium in the most recent round in Portugal due to a penalty), but if it wasn’t for his strong qualifying form, the unimaginable situation of Kristoffersson not being in a title fight could’ve been on the cards. Still, he’s got more championships than the rest of the field combined, so while he’s an underdog this time around, he’s the best person to grab the initiative when it counts.
Timmy Hansen (178pts)
‘OK, he’s got a championship, but can he deliver the goods in a straight fight with the great Johan Kristoffersson?’ It is a question that’s been on everyone’s lips since Timmy Hansen won the 2019 crown in Kristoffersson’s absence.
As 2021 has taught us, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. This year we’ve had the best opportunity to measure World RX’s two most recent champions side-by-side, and while Kristoffersson has been a constant thorn in Hansen’s side, it’s the Peugeot man that’s been leading the championship for the majority of the year.
Six podiums from seven, two of those being wins, isn’t just a better record than Kristoffersson and the rest of the contenders, but it blows his own 2019 triumph out of the water. Back then, yes, he might’ve earned two more event wins, but those four top spots were his only podiums that season.
To cut a long story short, while there may be five contenders mathematically, Timmy Hansen is very much in the driving seat. It’s his title to lose.