KRISTOFFERSSON SLIPS TO GLORY
Volkswagen driver dominates in France. By Hal Ridge
Awet and slippery track and rough weather are supposed to be the enemies of racing drivers, but to Johan Kristoffersson, they are more friend than foe. The Swedish driver, almost without fail, always excels on a challenging track and it was no different last weekend at Loheac.
But, while Kristoffersson dominated the third and fourth qualifying sessions during the World Rallycross round on Sunday morning, the track was dry for the semi-finals and final. The Swede wasn’t sure if he would be able to remain at the front for the latter part of the day.
He couldn’t have been more wrong, and went on to dominate both his semi-final and final to earn the first victory of the season for both himself and the Volkswagen RX Sweden team.
The opening day of the event hadn’t gone Kristoffersson’s way though, and it was championship protagonist Mattias Ekstrom who topped the time sheets in both Q1 and Q2 to lead into day two. Together with Kristoffersson, DTM champion Ekstrom is one of he best door-to-door racers in the World RX field, and he played it safe in Q3 and Q4 on Sunday morning to be second and third fastest respectively and top the Intermediate Classification.
That was all part of his plan. What wasn’t in the plan was for Andreas Bakkerud to pass him after the joker lap exit on the fifth lap of the semi-final and, although the contact between the Ford Focus and Audi S1 was slight, it was enough to damage Ekstrom’s front-left tyre. It deflated nearing the end of the final lap, which allowed Petter Solberg and Reinis Nitiss past.
Ekstrom was dumped to fourth, out of the final qualifying positions and out of contention for a fourth win of the season. Ekstrom had drawn level with Solberg for the lead of the championship at the Intermediate Classification, with Solberg sixth overall after qualifying stages.
Having lost the points lead to Solberg at the previous round in Canada, it looked as if Ekstrom would claw back the advantage following his qualifying performance, but not making the final didn’t help his cause.
Kristoffersson made the best start in the final from pole position to seize the lead. Behind, Solberg jumped from the second row to pass semi-final one winner Bakkerud at Turn 1, only to lose the place again as the pair headed out of Turn 2 towards the hairpin. As the Norwegian rivals battled, Sebastien Loeb climbed to second, having started alongside former World Rally rival Solberg on row two.
Solberg and Bakkerud continued to fight for the opening lap, exchanging positions, before Solberg took his compulsory joker lap at the second opportunity. Bakkerud, who quickly caught Loeb in second, took his joker on lap three, but Loeb did too. Side-byside, the pair made contact, the home
Drivers: 1 Solberg 181pts; 2 Mattias Ekstrom 176; 3 Kristoffersson 158; 4 Bakkerud 157; 5 Loeb 141; 6 Timmy Hansen 117. Teams: 1 EKS 275, 2 Team Peugeot-hansen 258; 3 Volkswagen RX Sweden 217; 4 Hoonigan Racing Division 210; 5 World RX Team Austria 126; 6 Olsbergsmse 80. Super1600 (6 laps): 1 Krisztian Szabo (Skoda Fabia) 4m08.867s; 2 Ulrik Linnemann (Peugeot 208) +0.565s; 3 Josef Susta (Skoda Fabia); 4 Enzo Libner (Renault Twingo); 5 Maximillien Eveno (Citroen C2); 6 Kasparas Navickas (Skoda Fabia).
hero losing the position to Bakkerud’s Ford Focus. Meanwhile, Ken Block started in his second final of the season on a track on which he finished fourth in 2014. He climbed to second by the end of lap three, thanks to those ahead having taken their joker laps.
Kristoffersson took his joker on lap five, returning to the lead while Block unleashed the train of cars behind him by also taking a fifth-lap joker. Bakkerud climbed to second with Solberg third and Loeb fourth, but the rally aces would swap places on the final lap, Loeb pulling off a good pass at the hairpin, having attempted a similar move a lap earlier.
Kristoffersson won with Bakkerud scoring his fourth consecutive podium and Loeb making his loyal home fans cheer by bringing his Peugeot 208 home in third. “My car and my driving style suit the wet conditions well,” said Kristoffersson. “I just got my head down in the semi-final and final. In the final I made a good start then I was just trying to stay away from the kerbs.”
Solberg’s fourth place gives him a five-point lead over Ekstrom in the title race, while Nitiss completed his final weekend for the Munnich Motorsport team with a first final start with the team that resulted in fifth. The position would have been sixth, had it not been for Block crashing out on the final lap.
Kevin Hansen made it into the semi-finals in his Peugeot 208 and was classified in 11th place.
Britandy Scott also made the semi-finals ( see sidebar) while Irishman Ollie O’donovan won his Q1 race on-track but had a dramatic time in his other qualifying races and wound up 27th overall.
Victories for Joe Courtney on both days of the Donegal Hillclimb weekend clinched the Naylor Engineering National Hillclimb and Sprint Championship, repeating his title of last year.
Heading into the final two rounds at Knockalla, Courtney’s only rival for the crown, Michael Connolly, needed to win on both Saturday and Sunday, but his challenge was ended when his Gould slid off the road on the opening day.
This left Courtney to bring his Reynard home in top position each time, cementing his second championship in style.
Alex Wilsdon Junior and Rory Stephens took turns at finishing second and third, driving their Radicals.
Paul Mooney took an early lead in the Hewison Autotest Championship, winning both days of the Munster and Cork clubs’ weekend at Ballyvourney.
On Saturday, he was 19s ahead of Robin Lyons, with Westfield driver Timmy Lynch close behind, whilst next day, six times champion Steven Ferguson was the runner-up, 12 seconds down.
Donegal Motor Club September 3/4 Knockalla, Portsalon, Co Donegal Saturday 69, Sunday 65. 1 Joe Courtney (Reynard 913-Peugeot) 38.74s; 2 Alex Wilsdon Jr (Radical PR6) +2.79s; 3 Rory Stephens (Radical SR8 Hayabusa); 4 Russell Stanworth (Reynard RF81 Opel); 5 John Donnelly (Reynard SF80); 6 John Mahon (DJ-ADS1 Hayabusa); 7 Gerard O’connell (Escort); 8 Peter Mckinley (Escort); 9 Wesley Patterson (Escort); 10 Robert Bell (Crossle 30F-hayabusa). 1 Courtney 38.46s; 2 Stephens +2.36s; 3 Wilsdon Jr; 4 Donnelly; 5 Stanworth; 6 Mahon; 7 Patterson; 8 Dwane; 9 Mckinley; 10 Thomas Corey (Delta T91).