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Saturday images from the World RX of Belgium

A getaway masterclass with World RX Champion Johan Kristoffersson

Jul 132018

Famously described like being thrown out of the back of a plane in mid-flight, launching a full race specification World Rallycross Supercar from a standing start is not for the faint hearted. If you’ve ever wondered how it’s done, then read on.

But first the science bit. Kinda. In current season trim, the formerly modest family hatchbacks - which provide the base for all of the World RX cars on the 2018 grid – are specially built to accelerate from 0-60mph in less than 1.9 seconds. That’s quicker than a Formula One car, and pretty much any other competition machinery you can think of. Save perhaps a top fuel dragster; whose nitro-methane fed engine needs to be pulled apart after each 5-second quarter-mile sprint.

And this is the main conundrum with World Rallycross Supercar machinery; it needs to accelerate unbelievably fast, maintain blistering top speeds, but also endure a full weekend’s worth of mechanical abuse - including practice, qualifying, and final races – on a mixture of unrelentingly harsh surfaces; crucially all without needing a total nut-and-bolt overhaul after each time the engine is shut down.


An uneasy mix between a rally, sprint, circuit, and stock hatch; a modern World RX car is a unique piece of machinery. The competing teams that field them are locked in a never-ending turbocharged arms race to be the fastest off the line, the best through the dirt sections, the most controlled off the jumps, and most precise on the asphalt sections.

It’ll come as no surprise then too, that in true teutonic style Volkswagen’s motorsport arm - currently partnered with Petter Solberg’s PSRX team - are the reigning world champions in this brutal circuit racing discipline. Three-time FIA World Champion Solberg races one of a pair of Volkswagen Polo R’s – alongside teammate Johan Kristoffersson, who is also the current and reigning Driver’s champion.



Walking into business side of Volkswagen PSRX’s service awning is more like entering a stylishly branded operating theater than a mechanics workshop. Bright white LED strip lights hang over both Solberg and Kristoffersson’s immaculate Polo R’s. Both cars flanked by high gloss white temporary pit walls, and spotlessly clean toolboxes.

Kristoffersson beckons us over – and promptly jumps into the driver’s seat of his Polo R, which sits up at knee height off the ground, on bespoke aluminium paddock stands.


Peering into the cockpit, the first thing that strikes you is function over form. An intricate layout of switches, levers, wiring, and carbon fiber boxes surround a single race seat. Long gone are the luxuries of air-conditioning and cup holders in the Polo’s former life – they have absolutely no place here.


“Welcome to my office”, grins the amiable 29-year old Swede. Who reaches over and plugs in his steering wheel into the quick release boss-fitting. “I love being in my race car – everything is exactly where I want it, and designed perfectly for me – it’s a real privilege to have something like this!”


So tell us; how do you launch this thing off the line?


“Ironically the first thing I do when I get into the car on the grid is actually to press the brakes! I do this to check the pre-load as the engineers check the brakes after every run on track. As a driver, you need to check these straight away – it’s one of the most vital systems on the car. There’s no point going this fast if you can’t slow down as well!


“After that I check that all the switches are in the correct positions for the launch. We have three to four settings on the launch systems depending on the grip levels and tyre temperature that we can change; so we can adapt the car to how the conditions have changed for that particular session.”

So then it’s go time?


“Almost! The procedure is like this; first you dip the clutch, then select first gear, and switch on the ALS system. Then you pull the handbrake, Press the launch button on the steering wheel, and then go full throttle with your right foot.


“Then you release the clutch to just below the biting point [the point at which the clutch is engaging] and then you are waiting for the green light!


“Now everything is ready to go. The engine is in full launch mode to speak, and the car is literally shaking to jump off the line.


“When the lights go green; you release the clutch, handbrake, and the ALS system button all together and as quickly as possible. After that it’s all about controlling the wheel spin after the launch, and getting down as much power as possible to build speed.”


What does that feel like?


“Most of the time if you get it right it feels great, but occasionally if you get it wrong it feels sh*t! You feel it very quickly – often within the first two tenths of a second, but at that point it’s too late to change also.


“If you get it right – it’s one of the best feelings in the world. The worst thing for me is that you get used to launching a car at this speed too quickly; and I want more! The first launch of the season, or after the summer break, when you aren’t fully prepared for what it will feel like – it feels like you left your brain 20 meters behind you! The acceleration of the car is very very impressive, and it feels like nothing else. Apart from Drag racing I don’t think there are many cars that accelerate faster off the line. In 2020 maybe the electric cars will be just as fast – if not faster – off the line. The control systems might be a little bit easier to optimize for the launch. We are always at the very limit of what is possible for the conditions and the tyres.”


And practice makes perfect, right?


“Yes exactly; it’s like getting things down to muscle memory – you have to practice the launch by doing it in and out of the car. I find visualizing the launch and the start helps a lot. Even if I am sitting at home, I can visualize working through the launch procedure. Doing it over and over and over is the key for me. So I can figure out exactly what I did right or wrong without any pressure, then when I come to do it for real I will be faster off the line in the car for real.”


Find out more about Johan, Petter and the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy, here.


Images – Monster Energy / MCH Photography

Editorial – Monster Energy / John Close