FIRST ROUND TO SOL­BERG

PET­TER BEATS LOEB IN WORLD RAL­LY­CROSS

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Hal Ridge

When: April 16/17 Where: Mon­tale­gre, Por­tu­gal Starters: 52

In the first two years of the World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship, both of which have been won by Pet­ter Sol­berg, rarely has the Nor­we­gian been seen strug­gling as much as he did on the first day of the 2016 sea­son opener in Por­tu­gal.

Eleventh fastest in Q1 was not where many ex­pected Sol­berg to start the de­fence of his dou­ble crown.

The heav­ens had opened above Mon­tale­gre and the first day was a muddy af­fair.

De­spite ex­ten­sive test­ing, Sol­berg was passed by com­pa­triot An­dreas Bakkerud, driv­ing the brand new Ford Fo­cus Su­per­car for the Hooni­gan Rac­ing team in the open­ing race. Sol­berg won his race in Q2, set­ting sixth fastest time to be seventh over­all.

Big changes were made to the Citroen’s set-up and, in now dry con­di­tions, Sol­berg hit the ground run­ning on day two. Fastest in Q3 and sec­ond fastest in Q4 put him sec­ond at the In­ter­me­di­ate Clas­si­fi­ca­tion and on pole for semi-fi­nal two.

He led through­out the semi to progress to the fi­nal and join Jo­han Kristof­fers­son on the front row. De­spite be­ing ham­pered by a bro­ken launch con­trol sys­tem, Sol­berg mak­ing man­ual starts in the semi-fi­nal and fi­nal, he again led into the first cor­ner in the fi­nal.

He took his joker on lap four, re­turn­ing to the track along­side Kristof­fers­son, who had jok­ered on lap one. The pair made con­tact, which broke the drive­shaft on the VW Polo and put him out. Sol­berg re­gained the lead when Robin Lars­son and then Toomas Heikki­nen took their jok­ers to win the first round of the sea­son, with Lars­son and Heikki­nen join­ing him on the podium.

Sol­berg said: “The old fash­ioned way [to start] seems to have worked – but the level of this cham­pi­onship is just crazy.”

Bakkerud im­pressed by fin­ish­ing fourth, while nine­time World Rally cham­pion Se­bastien Loeb crossed the line in fifth, his Peu­geot dam­aged by hit­ting a spin­ning Kristof­fers­son fol­low­ing the con­tact with Sol­berg. Loeb made a good start in the fi­nal, jump­ing out of the pack into turn one to take his joker lap but was beaten into the ex­tra route by Kristof­fers­son.

Brit Liam Do­ran made his de­but in a JRM Rac­ing Mini RX and qual­i­fied for the semi-fi­nals de­spite us­ing a 1.6-litre en­gine for the event.

Sol­berg led home Lars­son’s Audi

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