SOLBERG V LOEB BATTLE RETURNS TO BRITAIN
WRC world-beaters set to face off again on UK soil
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, 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…”
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