FIRST ROUND TO SOLBERG
PETTER BEATS LOEB IN WORLD RALLYCROSS
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