WORLDS APART? MAYBE NOT FOR MUCH LONGER

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - JAMES NEW­BOLD PER­FOR­MANCE ED­I­TOR james.new­bold@au­tosport.com @james_new­bold

When the World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship thun­dered onto the scene in 2014, it was dom­i­nated by Pet­ter Sol­berg, whose all-action ‘Hol­ly­wood’ style proved un­sur­pris­ingly pop­u­lar and was ex­actly the kind of crowd-pleas­ing draw the young cham­pi­onship needed to es­tab­lish it­self.

But fast-for­ward four years and the name on ev­ery­body’s lips is Sol­berg’s Volk­swa­gen team-mate Johan Kristof­fers­son, who wrapped up his se­cond con­sec­u­tive ti­tle at Austin. In truth, it had never re­ally been in doubt, a point un­der­lined by his adding a ninth win from 10 rounds in Texas.

Kristof­fers­son had dom­i­nated most of those rounds from the front, so Austin was some­thing of an out­lier. Third on the grid af­ter trail­ing Sol­berg in their semi-fi­nal, Kristof­fers­son hit the front when 2003 World Rally cham­pion Sol­berg made an un­forced er­ror two laps from home.

The two make for a fas­ci­nat­ing com­par­i­son, with Kristof­fers­son’s silkys­mooth style honed in cir­cuit rac­ing prov­ing the more ef­fec­tive of the two. And with two-time DTM cham­pion Mat­tias Ek­strom claim­ing the 2016 world ti­tle, it marks the third year in a row that a driver with cir­cuit-rac­ing pedi­gree has pre­vailed over the rally drivers. Are we wit­ness­ing a chang­ing of the guard?

Stephen Brunsdon takes an in-depth look at the evo­lu­tion of ral­ly­cross on page 8, with in­put from the cham­pion and those who have at­tempted to beat him this year, in­clud­ing Timmy Hansen, a con­tem­po­rary of Car­los Sainz Jr and Robin Fri­jns in Formula BMW.

Their rise to promi­nence un­der­lines the point made by our ex­pert coach Rob Wil­son on page 4 that the tech­niques needed to be quick in ral­ly­ing are not so dis­sim­i­lar to rac­ing. While Kimi Raikko­nen’s strug­gles in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship re­main fresh in the mem­ory, as Stephane Sar­razin has proved (page 7), who’s to say that we won’t see an­other rac­ing driver make the switch with aplomb in the near fu­ture?

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