Cape Town – Johann Kristoffersson and his Volkswagen Polo took an emphatic win at the final round of the 2017 World Rallycross series at Killarney, and with it the championship, winning a record seven out of 12 rounds.
But along the way he and his competitors, some of the world’s top rally and off-road racing drivers, gave the 27 000 spectators who packed the stands on Sunday the show of their lives.
Because, apart from the first 400 metres into and partway out of what it usually referred to as Turn 2 of the full circuit, the 1.1 kilometre rallycross track is only just wide enough for two cars – or one if it’s really sideways. That didn’t matter during the first three qualifying sessions, when the cars were set off one at a time, 190 seconds apart, and overtaking wasn’t a factor.
But the fourth and final qualifying session was run as a series of heats, with four cars at a time starting from the front (and only!) row of the grid. Suddenly things got very physical as four cars tried to turn into the same two-car-wide space at the same time; overtaking was usually at the expanse of body panels on both cars and bumping, punting and pushing one’s opponent off line seemed to be the order of the day.
Add to that clouds of dust on the unpaved sections of the circuit making visibility problematic for all but the leader, and cars regularly pounding the track furniture – and nose-diving into the ground on landing after the jump – and bits of fibreglass were left scattered all round the circuit after every heat.
Front bumpers and wheel-arches in particular seemed to be regarded as consumables, like tyres and spark-plugs; one of the hardest hit, if you’ll forgive the pun, was crowd favourite Ken Block’s Hoonigan Racing Ford Fiesta, which needed at least a new bumper and one front wing after every outing.
The 12 semi-finalists, out of 21 starters, included championship leader Kristoffersson, Peugeot’s Timmy Hansen, his younger bother Kevin, and nine-times World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb, former WRX champion Matthias Ekstrom (Audi), and Hoonigan team-mates Block and Norwegian hunk Andreas Bakkerud, who has the most raucous group of all-female, scantily clad fans in the series.
Kristofferson led the first semi-final - six cars competing over six laps - unchallenged from start to finish, winning by almost a second from Ekstrom, Solberg and Bakkerud, all of whom finished within 0.7s.
The second semi, however, was a real bump-and-grind affair as all six cars tried to go into Turn 2 together, fibreglass flew as Block barged his way into the lead, heading the first five laps but leaving his longer Joker lap to last – and not quite holding on to the lead.
Timmy Hansen beat him by little more than a second, followed by Timo Scheider (Ford Fiesta) in third and Kevin Hansen fourth. Loeb finished a lap down, and Kevin Eriksson only completed two laps.
But there was so much fibreglass missing from the front of Block’s Fiesta that after the race the car was found to underweight and Block was disqualified, handing an unexpected spot in the final to the younger Hansen.
In the event however, Hansen’s Peugeot didn’t even make it off the line due to transmission problems and the final became a five-way fight as Kristoffersson romped home ahead of Timmy Hansen, Ekstrom, Solberg and Scheider.
That gave Ekstrom second in the championship after a year-long duel with Solberg, while Loeb and Timmy Hansen finished fourth and fifth overall respectively.