Niclas Grönholm emerged on top at the end of a pulsating FIA World Rallycross Championship final in Portugal this weekend (16/17 October), with the Hyundai driver’s second triumph of the season setting the scene for a four-way battle for title glory in Germany next month.
Grönholm was there-or-thereabouts throughout Cooper Tires World RX of Montalegre – round seven of the 2021 World Championship campaign – and after placing fourth in the qualifying classification, a demon start in the second semi-final propelled him firmly into contention for victory.
Having led five of the six laps, the 25-year-old had to give best to a hard-charging Johan Kristoffersson almost within sight of the chequered flag, but he was not done yet. In the final, the GRX-SET World RX Team ace darted immediately for the joker on the opening tour – and it was a tactic that would pay off handsomely.
As Timmy Hansen, Kristoffersson and Kevin Hansen duelled ferociously at the front of the field, they were also holding each other up – allowing the pursuing Grönholm to close the gap.
Approaching mid-distance, matters came to a head when Kristoffersson tried to prise the door open for the lead but drifted wide. That enabled the younger Hansen to edge alongside for second place, with the KYB EKS JC Audi S1 skating spectacularly across the gravel trap and ploughing through the track markers as Kristoffersson kept his foot planted firmly to the floor.
With Grönholm zeroing in, all three left their jokers to the very last lap in a bid to put some clean air between themselves and the flying Finn, but the Hyundai driver undercut them to assume a lead he would not subsequently relinquish, in so doing cementing a fifth career success at the international pinnacle of the sport in a race that will unquestionably go down in World RX history.
Niclas Grönholm, GRX-SET World RX Team, said:
“It feels great – I didn’t expect this after qualifying. I really enjoyed the weekend and racing at Montalegre, especially the gravel sections. I didn’t have much choice but to take the joker at the start of the final, and I was actually a bit surprised that Timmy, Johan and Kevin all chose the standard lap.
“We had slightly better pace than in the qualifiers and when they began battling, that allowed me to catch up and I just tried to stick as close as possible to the back of them. I really didn’t know if we had enough, but thankfully it turned out that we did. Now I’m looking forward to the Nürburgring and hopefully a strong finish to the season.”
Championship leader Timmy Hansen ultimately wound up second at the end of a weekend he had largely dominated, claiming three fastest times in qualifying and a semi-final triumph. Despite missing out on victory, the Swede has nonetheless extended his advantage at the top of the title table to 17 points, with 60 remaining to play for in the season finale.
Hansen World RX Team stablemate Kevin Hansen was classified third after Kristoffersson was handed a five-second penalty for his track marker transgression, which dropped the three-time world champion to sixth behind Grönholm’s GRX-SET team-mate Krisztián Szabó and Enzo Ide in the second KYB EKS JC entry.
BELEVSKIY TAKES TITLE IN STYLE IN EURO RX3
Yury Belevskiy was crowned FIA European Rallycross Champion in the Euro RX3 category at Montalegre, almost exactly 12 months on from topping the points table but not getting to hold the trophy.
Due to the shortened season last year, no title was officially awarded in 2020, but this time around, Belevskiy was not to be denied and he sealed the deal in fine style, dominating the qualifying stages before winning both his semi-final and the final in emphatic fashion.
Yury Belevskiy, 2021 FIA Euro RX3 Champion, said:
“This feels awesome! What a perfect weekend. I felt pretty relaxed coming here as I had a fairly big lead, and to secure the title by winning my last event in Euro RX3, I couldn’t be happier.”
Belevskiy’s Volland Racing team-mates Marat Knyazev and Kobe Pauwels finished second and third in Portugal, with the latter doing just enough to hold onto the runner-up spoils in the end-of-season standings by a single point.
Following a six-week break, the 2021 World RX campaign will conclude at Germany’s Nürburgring on 27/28 November, with an eagerly-anticipated double-header to determine the destiny of the coveted World Championship crown and the identity of the inaugural FIA RX2e Champion.
1. Niclas GRÖNHOLM (FIN) GRX-SET World RX Team 6 laps
2. Timmy HANSEN (SWE) Hansen World RX Team + 0.537s
3. Kevin HANSEN (SWE) Hansen World RX Team + 1.977s
4. Krisztián SZABÓ (HUN) GRX-SET World RX Team + 2.270s
5. Enzo IDE (BEL) KYB EKS JC+ 3.762s
6. Johan KRISTOFFERSSON (SWE) KYB EKS JC + 5.754s