WRC world-beat­ers set to face off again on UK soil

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans

on boards to get an idea of what the Kent track has to of­fer.

But Sol­berg is confident this week­end will suit Loeb.

“It’s fast, wide with lots of sweep­ing cor­ners,” said Sol­berg. “They will go well there with the Peu­geot – and there’s a more nor­mal joker lap that Seb can use.”

Then one thing both Loeb and Sol­berg agree on is the im­pres­sive cur­rent pace com­ing from cham­pi­onship leader Ek­strom and his Audi.

Loeb said: “It’s clear at the mo­ment, Ek­strom is feel­ing re­ally well in his car, he has a lot of con­fi­dence and he’s not hav­ing to take big risks to do what he’s do­ing. We are hav­ing to push quite hard just to fol­low him.”

Sol­berg added: “I must ad­mit, I have been more sur­prised at the Audi in the last two seasons – sur­prised that it wasn’t al­ready at this speed. Now it’s at the level I thought it would be last sea­son.

“We are a lit­tle bit be­hind, but we have some more up­dates for Ly­d­den. I have to be hon­est, we hadn’t made the plan to bring these up­grades al­ready, but it’s clear that we have to do some­thing now. We have some work on the chas­sis and on the en­gine, just small dif­fer­ences. Don’t worry, there’s some­thing up our sleeve!”

Sol­berg lost the lead of the cham­pi­onship to Ek­strom for the first time in two years at the last race in Bel­gium.

Sol­berg added: “The fight will be close, it will be re­ally ex­cit­ing with a lot of re­spect be­tween the driv­ers. But trust me, we have a plan.”

For­mer World Rally cham­pi­ons Se­bastien Loeb and Pet­ter Sol­berg will re­new their ri­valry on Bri­tish soil for the first time since 2012 at this week­end’s World Ral­ly­cross of Great Bri­tain.

Sol­berg was the only driver ever to beat Loeb over the course of a full World Rally Cham­pi­onship sea­son, but it’s the French­man who will ar­rive in Kent on the back foot. Sol­berg has won his last two out­ings at Ly­d­den Hill and is a dou­ble World RX cham­pion.

“Bri­tain is al­ways a spe­cial place for me to come to com­pete,” said Sol­berg. “I love it here. Ly­d­den is a fan­tas­tic track and one where I have gone well, win­ning the Top Gear race and the World RX round last year. I like the fast track and I like the at­mos­phere – it was al­ways the same when I came here to com­pete on Rally GB.

“Hav­ing [Se­bastien] Loeb back is fan­tas­tic. He’s such a tough guy to com­pete against and that’s never go­ing to change. It’s the same now like it ever was. But we’re a lit­tle bit older and a lit­tle bit wiser now, we share some se­crets to­gether – or at least I share my se­crets about the track with him!”

Loeb’s challenge

Loeb, who scored his first World RX podium with sec­ond place at the last event in Bel­gium ear­lier this month, is lov­ing his first year in ral­ly­cross.

“The adrenalin on the start line is quite high,” Loeb told MN. “It’s so in­tense, it’s more than I felt [in any other se­ries] be­fore. I re­ally like this. The sen­sa­tion in the car is re­ally nice. You have to push ab­so­lutely on the limit for four or six laps with six cars all fight­ing for the same place.”

Loeb has leaned on Sol­berg for ad­vice since ar­riv­ing in ral­ly­cross and ad­mits he’s im­pressed with the Nor­we­gian.

“Pet­ter is quick,” said Loeb. “In the last race in Bel­gium, I was think­ing he would come past me in the fi­nal, but he didn’t – I was a lit­tle bit sur­prised for this. It’s good to be com­pet­ing with him again. We had some good races in ral­ly­ing and it’s nice to be do­ing the same again. And he’s a good guy as well.”

Loeb added that he was also happy re­turn­ing to Bri­tain.

“The at­mos­phere in Bri­tain is al­ways good,” he said. “I re­mem­ber on Rally GB it was like this, but also at events like Good­wood [Fes­ti­val of Speed], it was re­ally nice to come and meet the fans. There’s a lot of pas­sion for this sport in Bri­tain and I like that. Some times it’s rain­ing quite a lot though…”

Driv­ing stan­dards

Weather aside, Loeb’s only other is­sue is with the en­thu­si­asm some of his ri­vals take onto the track.

Sol­berg has long cam­paigned for less con­tact and im­proved stan­dards of driv­ing in World RX. Loeb is on the same page.

“I agree with Pet­ter,” Loeb said. “One or two of the driv­ers are re­ally too rough. There’s no fun in that. We all need some points to get out of the heats and into the semi-fi­nal, so why push and hit some­body? Some­times the driv­ers don’t seem to un­der­stand that if they push you then it slows them down as well as you.”

Loeb learned very quickly from Sol­berg’s con­ser­va­tive ap­proach to the heats.

“Pet­ter and Mat­tias [Ek­strom] are the guys who are not so rough,” he said. “And some­times it’s bet­ter in the heats, if you are be­hind them, then just fol­low them. Try to stay one me­tre be­hind them and at the end of the race you have a time that is twotenths [of a sec­ond] slower than them, but you score good points for this time. What’s the point to try to pass them and risk hit­ting them in the heats?

“If you have a bad first heat then it can re­ally af­fect your week­end. We had a bad week­end in Hock­en­heim. I tried to use the joker [lap] to find some clear space to drive in, but it was not pos­si­ble. There was traf­fic all of the time and no clear track, it wasn’t good.”

Set­ting the pace

Loeb ad­mit­ted his knowl­edge of Ly­d­den is limited and will spend some of his week watch­ing

Sol­berg lost points lead for first time in two years re­cently

Loeb is tipped to go well on fast, sweep­ing Ly­d­den Hill cir­cuit

Pet­ter Sol­berg (left) will go head- to-head with old ri­val Se­bastien Loeb at Ly­d­den Hill

Ek­strom leads points in Audi

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