Double duty pays off for DTM ace.
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
Ekstrom (r) and Heikkinen shone
Doran took a semi final victory in Mini
Ekstrom (r) combined World RX and DTM