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Images from the 2018 World RX of Norway
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Mindset of a champion: Johan Kristoffersson

Jun 212018

The records keep on tumbling for Johan Kristoffersson.

Ahead of his home event in the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy, the 29 year old Swedish ace lines up not only as the reigning driver’s champion – having secured last year’s title two races before the end of the season – but he also currently leads the 2018 championship, having won every event, bar one, since the flag dropped on World RX ’18 in Barcelona in April.

What’s more, over the last two seasons, Kristoffersson boasts an unparalleled hit rate at the wheel of his 600bhp Volkswagen Polo R. No less than 11 out of the last 16 races have seen Kristoffersson take to the top step; with a further three races featuring him in either second or third place.

That’s no mean feat in any championship; but when you consider the quality of competition Kristoffersson is up against – drivers like Sébastien Loeb, Petter Solberg, and Matthias Ekström – the achievement is nothing short of remarkable.

In all, Kristoffersson has racked up 22 podiums from his 46 starts in World RX so far, and at World Rallycross’ last event in Norway, Kristoffersson became the sport’s second only driver to score a perfect weekend; winning all four qualification races, the semi final and final.

All this for a driver that only made his FIA rallycross debut five years ago in the 2013 European Championship.

 

So what’s his secret? Despite cutting an imposing figure – standing over 6ft tall – Kristoffersson has a very considered, quiet, and purposeful style about him. Look for him in the paddock, and you are more likely to find Kristoffersson studying race data with his Volkswagen PSRX Team engineers, than clowning around in front of a TV camera for the latest media stunt.

 

As a former circuit racer too - having enjoyed considerable success winning the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia Championship twice (2012 – 2013) and the Swedish Touring Car Championship in 2012 – the Swede is highly adaptable behind the wheel; a vital skill in the crucible-like environment of World RX.

 

“The way I see it, preparation is really where you begin with the results. If you aren’t prepared by the time you get to the race, then it’s too late,” explains Kristoffersson. “As a race driver there is massive external pressure on your shoulders to perform as well as you can, and on demand. But in truth I probably put the most pressure on myself.

 

“I believe you have to learn to lose too. You’ll never win if you don’t dare to lose in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely hate to lose, but there’s definitely a difference between that and being a bad loser. You can’t be bitter and just say – he won because he had a faster car. For me, I look at why and where. Why were they faster? Where can I improve?

 

“Rallycross can be quite a complicated sport – it’s not just down to the best lap times and the best pace. There are so many parameters changing all the time; you need to not just have a fast car, you need a fast car at the right time, as well as all the other parts of the race, like your draw [in the qualifying races], track position, weather, and track conditions coming together as well. You need to be the team and the driver that are prepared to adapt the quickest!”

“You have to be ready from the very first corner. If you are not 100% focused and 100% motivated – you wont have the advantage.”

What was your mindset going in to this season?

: “I’m happy! If I could choose any team, any sport, any car, then I would pick where I am right now. I’ve been looking forward to racing again ever since I finished last season. So the hunger to compete and to win never goes away. In some ways over the winter it felt relatively short between the final race in South Africa, and in another way it felt like forever.

“Testing only tells you so much. Of course Petter and I compare times and scrutinize every little detail we can on the car, but it’s never really the proper deal until you line up on track against the other teams you will be fighting against. Then you really see where you are.”

You’ve scored third, second, and first in the last three championships, where do you go from here?

“Well in all honesty if I compare all three positions, I like first place the best! The competition this year is very very tough. We prepared well before the season, and the team and car are good for sure, so we are in a good place. It’s been an amazing championship so far, and I couldn’t have predicted before we started that I would have got these results. Of course you always work towards winning; but you try not to expect it and stay humble. Four wins from five races is more than I expected though for sure!”

The fact that you realize all this – does that make you a thinking driver’s champion?

“I think I’m more of a do-er actually! Seriously though I think I analyse quite a lot. When I come to the racetrack, I’m always itching to get to the start line and get going. People often ask me whether I get nervous, and my answer is always the same; it’s not that I get really nervous it’s more of a case that if I know I’ve done absolutely everything I can do to be prepared and perform my best, then I’m more relaxed. If then I don’t do well, then I need to go home, study my preparations more and see what I can do differently – or better – to make the result better next time.”

You’re racing in the Swedish Touring Car Championship again too – does this help?

“I do the circuit racing, because I believe it makes me a better rallycross driver. For sure my main focus is to build my profile and continue to compete in rallycross in the long term. It’s important seat time in a race car that helps me with preparation, and being able to be focused straight away when I get in my rallycross car. It’s the same reason I did Rally Sweden over the winter. It all helps you be more adaptable as a driver. In 2011 I did my first weekend where I was switching between two classes on the same weekend – Porsche Cup with rear wheel drive, and Touring Car with front wheel drive. At first it was pretty difficult. But the more you push, the more you learn. Then the next year I won both championships in the same season. It was the same principle I applied to my cross-country skiing before I started racing in motorsport. The more you train – every day – the better you get. In rallycross I think this is magnified; we drive maybe half an hour total over the whole weekend – which is just one session in circuit racing. So you have to be ready from the very first corner. If you are not 100% focused and 100% motivated – you wont have the advantage.”

“You’ll never win if you don’t dare to lose in my opinion.”

What do you think about when you are in the car?

“Early on in my career during circuit racing I used to think of all kinds of things when I was in the car. You have time to think there. Because of the long straights and number of laps. In rallycross it’s different – everything is so intense and fast that you need to be 100% focused. Occasionally things can creep into the back of your mind, but I’ve learned to control this now.”

You already have the next generation ready too - would you want your son to race?

“For me it’s all about being a competitive person. In general in life I think you achieve so much more if you are a competitive person. So whatever my son chooses to do, whether that’s ice-skating, or ballet, or work in a bank or whatever; I hope he pushes to be the best he can possibly be at it. And of course if he wants to go racing then I’ll fully support him – because I know a couple of things about it. But if it’s something else, then I guarantee I’ll try my best to support him and figure things out. I’m very passionate about motorsport – so of course it would be great for him to race!”



The 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy continues with round six – the World RX of Sweden - on the 30th June at Kristofferson’s home race – and favorite circuit, Höljes. Having won the event last year, and never finished outside of the top 10 there since his debut in 2013, the sky for the moment at least is the limit. Watch this space.

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