MID-SEASON REVIEW: PART ONE
The second half of the FIA World Rallycross Championship begins next week, as round seven of World RX takes place at Trois-Rivieres in Canada.
Over the next two days, we’re taking a brief look back at the opening half of the season, in two bite-size installments.
Round One; Montalegre, Portugal
New faces and new cars stole the show heading into the first round of World RX in Portugal, with nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb making his debut for Team Peugeot-Hansen and Ken Block’s Hoonigan Racing Division team making its maiden appearance with the Ford Focus RS RX. But, come Sunday afternoon it was double-World RX champion Petter Solberg who shone, by winning in Portugal for a second time in his career. Mattias Ekstrom had dominated the qualifying stages but missed out on a place in the final after contract with Timmy Hansen at the start of the semi-finals. Topi Heikkinen finished on the podium on his EKS debut, while Robin Larsson continued his form from winning the final round of the 2015 season in Argentina with third place. Andreas Bakkerud finished fourth on the debut of the Focus RS RX, Sebastien Loeb made the final and finished fifth while Johan Kristoffersson spun out of podium contention in the final after contact with Solberg at the joker lap exit.
Round Two; Hockenheim, Germany
Ekstrom was a busy man at Hockenheim in early May, as he raced in both the second round of World RX and the opening round of the DTM. Sensationally, the double-DTM champion headed home team mate Topi Heikkinen in the World RX final on Sunday lunchtime to score EKS’ first World RX one-two, while Ken Block scored the first podium for the Ford Focus RS RX, following a dramatic semi-final two, in which a puncture stricken Johan Kristoffersson did all he could to fend off a chasing pack of Liam Doran, Ken Block and Petter Solberg. The latter trio made it through, led by Doran, but it was Block who took the advantage in the final to finish on the podium while Solberg was slowed by technical troubles and finished fourth. Doran finished fifth, the best result to-date for the JRM team’s MINI RX, while Robin Larsson made the final for the second event in a row but rolled his Audi A1 mid-race, but still finished much to the delight of the packed Sachs arena. Timmy Hansen failed to make it into the semi-finals after his Peugeot 208 caught fire in Q3, although it was repaired in time for Q4. Block benefitted as a result to make it into the semis.
Round Three; Mettet, Belgium
On the back of his first World RX win outside Sweden (at Hockenheim), Ekstrom headed to Belgium for round three of World RX just a week later full of confidence, and dominated. The Swede claimed a maximum points haul by topping the Intermediate Classification and winning his semi-final and the final to take the championship lead. Anton Marklund made the best start in the final from the third row of the grid to jump to third behind second placed Solberg at turn one, and ahead of Sebastien Loeb, but spun out of a podium position on lap two. Solberg and local star Francois Duval took their joker laps on lap one, Solberg eventually finishing third behind Ekstrom and Loeb in a race to the line with his former WRC rival, while Duval was slowed by a puncture and finished fifth behind the recovering Marklund. Kristoffersson made the final but was slowed by a misfiring engine from the start.
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