Sport­ing Scene

Dou­ble duty pays off for DTM ace.

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By Hal Ridge

At mid­day last Sun­day, at the Hock­en­heim cir­cuit in Ger­many, Mat­tias Ekstrom climbed down from the win­ners’ podium, hopped on an await­ing bi­cy­cle and be­gan to pedal away from a mob of pho­tog­ra­phers and tele­vi­sion crews.

He paused for a fi­nal photo with a be­sot­ted Ger­man fan and was off, not to the win­ners’ press con­fer­ence but in the di­rec­tion of the DTM pit­lane and his next com­mit­ment of the week­end, which was due to take place just a few min­utes later.

The ex­pe­ri­enced Swede was a busy man at the se­cond round of the World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship, which ran on the same week­end as the open­ing round of the DTM at Hock­en­heim, mix­ing Ekstrom’s DTM day job with his ex­ploits with his own EKS ral­ly­cross team.

Mo­ments prior to the semi-fi­nals and fi­nal of the World RX event late on Sun­day morn­ing, Ekstrom had been in his Abt DTM Audi be­fore jump­ing into his Su­per­car, and di­rectly af­ter cel­e­brat­ing his third ever World RX vic­tory he was back in his RS5 for more com­pe­ti­tion in the Ger­man tour­ing car se­ries.

As he had at the first round of the sea­son in Por­tu­gal, Ekstrom topped the World RX In­ter­me­di­ate Clas­si­fi­ca­tion af­ter the four qual­i­fy­ing races, net­ting 16 valu­able cham­pi­onship points and pole position for the first semi-fi­nal.

But, un­like at the first round of the se­ries, he made it through the first cor­ner of the semi with­out ma­jor drama, al­though he did get out­dragged to turn one and was passed by his team-mate Toomas Heikki­nen. The pair fin­ished in those same po­si­tions.

Come the start of the fi­nal, it was Ekstrom’s turn to make the best start. He slot­ted into se­cond from his se­cond row start­ing position and fended off the early at­ten­tions of Ken Block be­fore pulling off an im­pres­sive move around the out­side of his team-mate at the end of lap three to seize the lead. He stayed there un­til the fin­ish, with Heikki­nen run­ning se­cond to the che­quered flag.

“I have never been hap­pier be­fore in my en­tire life,” said Ekstrom. “To win in front of this amaz­ing crowd with all the DTM and ral­ly­cross fans is some­thing you nor­mally can only dream of.”

Block fought back from a slow punc­ture in Q2 and hav­ing not ini­tially made it into the semi-fi­nals, qual­i­fy­ing in 13th at the In­ter­me­di­ate Clas­si­fi­ca­tion, to fin­ish on the podium in the fi­nal.

The ‘Hooni­gan in Chief ’ made it into the top 12 when Timmy Hansen was dis­qual­i­fied from Q4 for his Peu­geot 208 be­ing 18kg un­der the min­i­mum 1300kg weight limit. Hansen’s 208 had burst into flames in his Q3 race and only hur­ried re­pairs by the Peu­geot-hansen team got the car back to the grid for Q4.

Hansen won the race on track and set se­cond fastest time to ini­tially be third over­all at the In­ter­me­di­ate stage, only to be de­moted to 18th fol­low­ing his dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion, out of the semi-fi­nals.

Twelve months ear­lier, Hansen had just scraped into the semi-fi­nals at Hock­en­heim in 12th over­all but fin­ished third in both the semi and fi­nal in a great come­back drive. This time around it was Block who did the same, iron­i­cally ben­e­fit­ing when Hansen lost out.

Block raced hard with Liam Do­ran and Pet­ter Sol­berg in semi-fi­nal two, the trio all mov­ing up when leader Johan Kristof­fers­son even­tu­ally had to con­cede the lead of the race on the fi­nal tour, de­spite hang­ing on for most of the race with a rear punc­ture, caused by first cor­ner con­tact.

Do­ran be­came the first Bri­tish driver to win a World RX semi-fi­nal, rac­ing a JRM Rac­ing Mini RX for the se­cond time, and qual­i­fied on the front row of the fi­nal. The Brit ran third af­ter turn one in the fi­nal but in a three-way bat­tle for the position on the open­ing lap, the Mini’s steer­ing got dam­aged, putting Do­ran out of con­tention. Fifth place was cause for cel­e­bra­tion, how­ever: the event marked Do­ran’s first fi­nal start since Swe­den 2014, de­spite the Mini still be­ing fit­ted with a 1.6-litre en­gine and be­ing sig­nif­i­cantly down on power com­pared to the rest of the field.

“It’s been an ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble week­end,” said Do­ran. “The semi­fi­nal win was prob­a­bly one of my best races for a long time. The fi­nal was frus­trat­ing be­cause the steer­ing dam­age meant I couldn’t push, but fifth is still a mega re­sult.”

Reign­ing cham­pion Sol­berg had a trou­bled event. En­gine prob­lems in Q4 stopped his Citroen DS 3 in the mid­dle of the track while in the lead of the race, only to be run into by his World Rally neme­sis Se­bastien Loeb, the im­pact break­ing Sol­berg’s sus­pen­sion and hurt­ing the Nor­we­gian’s thumb. The en­gine trou­bles con­tin­ued on the fi­nal day, Sol­berg’s Citroen not on full form in the semi-fi­nal or fi­nal and he wound up fourth. He de­parted the event tied with Ekstrom at the top of the cham­pi­onship standings.

Loeb mean­while had made the semi­fi­nals but got in­volved in a bat­tle with Peu­geot Hansen Academy driver Davy Jean­ney and Block’s team-mate An­dreas Bakkerud in the first knock­out race, al­low­ing Robin Lars­son to seize the op­por­tu­nity to pass the three of them and move into a qual­i­fy­ing spot for the fi­nal, where the pri­va­teer Swede stayed un­til the end.

In the fi­nal, Lars­son was caught out when Sol­berg made a mis­take and hit a con­crete wall on the se­cond loose sec­tion on lap three, the Swede al­most iden­ti­cally repli­cat­ing Sol­berg’s mo­ment, but wasn’t quite able to stop the car mount­ing the wall, rolling onto its roof and back onto its wheels. Lars­son fired the car back up and fin­ished the race in sixth. n

Pho­tos: fi­a­worl­dral­ly­cross.com

Ekstrom (r) and Heikki­nen shone

Do­ran took a semi fi­nal vic­tory in Mini

Ekstrom (r) com­bined World RX and DTM

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