HANSEN TURNS DESPAIR IN TO DELIGHT A
Swedish driver scrapes into the final, then wins By Hal Ridge “
m I dreaming? Hopefully I’m not about to wake up in a minute,” said a stunned Timmy Hansen moments before the winner’s press conference in Canada on Sunday afternoon.
The Swede had good reason to be stunned: less than half an hour before he had been out of the seventh round of the World Rallycross Championship, set to go home after a difficult weekend where the team’s Peugeot 208 struggled with a lack of straight-line speed. That is not particularly helpful on the TroisRivieres street circuit which has the longest straight of the year.
However, despite finishing fourth to Andreas Bakkerud, Timur Timerzyanov and Toomas Heikkinen in the second semi-final, the SwedishFrench team reprepared the car just in case there was a chance they could make it through to the final if one of the six qualifiers didn’t make it to the grid.
Just up the road from Hansen in the semi, Timerzyanov had nudged Heikkinen on his way into second position in the penultimate corner of the race and was later disqualified for the move. The result of that meant Hansen was moved to the last spot on the final grid.
At the front of the six-car final grid, double World RX champion Petter Solberg lined up on pole position. When World RX first visited the famous Canadian street circuit in 2014, the Norwegian made the event his. On the back of two ‘off form’ events by his own high standards, Solberg had set fastest time in three of the qualifying sessions and dominated the first semi-final, winning his penultimate race of the weekend by almost five seconds.
Timerzyanov had pushed Solberg hard through the qualifying stages, the Russian’s World RX Team Austria Ford Fiesta using a similar spec Pipo Moteurs engine to that in Solberg’s Citroen DS3, benefiting both on the circuit’s long straight.
The triple European champion had pushed Solberg especially hard in Q3, in the rear of his car at the first corner having outbraked himself. However, with the Russian making a bad start in his semi-final and then not making it to the final, the event appeared to be Solberg’s to lose.
The rain that had threatened the hot North American weather all weekend finally fell during the Intercontinental RX Lites Cup final that ran between the World RX semis and final. With a ‘wet race’ declared, despite the downpour having ended before the main event, four of the six finalists opted to race on wet tyres but Solberg and second row starter Heikkinen elected for drys.
As the lights changed, Solberg made a poor getaway while Heikkinen managed to make his dry tyres work off the line and led into turn one. Solberg went for the inside into the first corner but was squeezed, hard but fair, by Andreas Bakkerud, who slotted into second.
While Solberg dropped right to the back of the pack, Hansen snuck up the inside at the first corner following a slow start and climbed to fourth, between Johan Kristoffersson and Anton Marklund, who both then took their joker laps at the first opportunity.
At the start of lap two, Heikkinen ran wide into the first corner, Bakkerud passing the Finn on the inside while Hansen also passed the EKS driver into turn two. Solberg had climbed to fourth when the Volkswagen RX Sweden drivers jokered on lap one, but dropped back down to sixth when he too took his joker on lap two.
Heikkinen was the next driver to take his joker on lap three, returning to the main circuit right between Kristoffersson and Marklund as the leading Volkswagen Polo driver set off in pursuit of Bakkerud and Hansen ahead.
By the start of the fourth lap, Hansen was all over the rear of Bakkerud’s Focus, the Swede then taking his joker in an attempt to pass Bakkerud when he too took his extra-route on lap five.
Hansen had put in the lap of the final to leapfrog Bakkerud for the lead, with the top three then running line-astern to the finish.
Hansen’s victory marked the first for the Peugeot-hansen squad of 2016, while Bakkerud scored his third podium in a row to close the gap on the lead of the championship and Kristoffersson put a string of bad luck behind him to finish on the podium for the first time this year.
Heikkinen finished further back in fourth, while Marklund had damaged his left-rear tyre and fought hard to hold off Solberg, only to lose out to the reigning champion with just a few corners to go.
Following the finish, Marklund lost the front brakes on his Volkswagen Polo and hit the rear of Solberg’s Citroen ( see headline news).
Despite not winning the event where he looked like he might before the final, Solberg took the lead of the championship standings in Canada for the first time since Hockenheim in May.
Points leader heading into the event, Mattias Ekstrom fought back from a puncture in the very first race of the weekend. The Swede climbed back to fourth at the Intermediate Classification and led semi-final two, but retired with a front-left puncture. The two-time DTM champion is now four points behind Solberg in the final race.
Hansen’s team-mate, Sebastien Loeb didn’t make it into the final, the Frenchman finished fourth in semifinal one. American Ken Block was classified fifth in the same race but didn’t finish after hitting a wall and breaking his Focus’s suspension while in a qualifying spot for the final.
Olsbergsmse driver Kevin Eriksson made the semi-finals despite crashing out heavily of Q3. The Swedish team worked hard to repair the Fiesta in time for Q4 and Eriksson wound-up fourth in semi-final two.