EKSTROM LANDS A WRX DILEMMA
Victory gives DTM star a big decision. By Hal Ridge
attias Ekstrom hasn’t missed a round of the DTM for over 15 years. But the penultimate round of the World Rallycross Championship in Germany next month clashes with the final round of the DTM.
The World RX event is at the Estering near Hamburg, with the DTM at Hockenheim. Unlike at the last clash of Ekstrom’s two championships in May, the Swede won’t be able to drive in both events in October.
Ekstrom might not have missed a DTM round for a decade and a half, but he also hasn’t led a World Championship with only three rounds to go previously in his successful motor racing career.
Victory at last weekend’s ninth round of World RX at the Barcelona Formula 1 circuit in Spain moved the Swede clear in the championship over rival Petter Solberg by 10 points. The pair has swapped places at the head of the order all year, and in recent events it’s been Solberg not Ekstrom who has made it into the final. While other drivers have been doing the winning, the leading pair have consistently racked up points and rarely been split by more than five at the head of the order.
Ekstrom finished third at the Intermediate Classification in Barcelona and won both his semi-final and final to turn a five-point deficit into a 10-point advantage.
As Ekstrom flew through the final stages of the event, Solberg was hampered by technical troubles on day one, got stuck in traffic in Q3 on Sunday morning and then ran in a early race in Q4 when the track was at its slowest.
Seventh at the Intermediate Classification, Solberg started on the second row of the grid for the first semi-final, alongside Sebastien Loeb, and it was Loeb with whom Solberg was involved in a battle, along with privateer Robin Larsson for most of the race. The race was for third position and a place in the final, Larsson making his Audi A1 as wide as he could to hold off Loeb, who hit a tyre stack on the final lap and stopped after the circuit’s hairpin, where he retired. Solberg squeezed passed the stricken Peugeot, not without contact, but wound up fourth and didn’t make the final.
Timmy Hansen topped the Intermediate Classification after setting his first fastest qualifying time of the season in Q1, while winner of the French round a fortnight earlier, Johan Kristoffersson, dominated the early part of day two to climb to second overall, before he was beaten by Timur Timerzyanov in semi-final two by the smallest of margins.
At the start of the final, Ekstrom and triple European champion Timerzyanov made equal launches and ran side-by-side through the second corner. Behind, Kristoffersson made the best start but had to back off the throttle in his Volkswagen Polo into turn one to avoid running into the back of Ekstrom, and ran third for the opening two laps while Timerzyanov pressured Ekstrom for the lead.
Third row starters Janis Baumanis and Larsson both took their joker on lap one, before Kristoffersson took his extra route on lap two. As the joker laps played out, Ekstrom never lost his advantage while Hansen followed the leader into the compulsory extra route on lap five and passed both Kristoffersson and Timerzyanov at the exit to return to second position.
On the final lap while running in third, Timerzyanov slowed out of the hairpin for the last time, allowing Kristoffersson to close onto the rear of his Ford Fiesta. Minor contact between the pair forced Timerzyanov wide on the circuit’s long loose righthander and Kristoffersson sneaked through to finish on the podium behind Ekstrom and Hansen.
However, following the event, Kristoffersson was given a black flag for the move and demoted to sixth in the final. Timerzyanov’s third position marked his first podium since the Canadian round of the championship in 2014, while Baumanis made it two World RX Team Austria cars in the final and was classified fourth. Larsson retired on lap five.
With the entry deadline looming for the showdown at Estering event, Ekstrom and Audi will have to make a decision in the coming days about where he will race on the third weekend in October, which could be decisive in the World RX title battle.
“I’m really happy,” said Ekstrom after the final in Spain. “To win a race in this championship makes me smile every time, it’s becoming more and more difficult to achieve it. No disrespect to the others but there are so many guys who are able to win a race here. At the beginning of the year there were less guys who could do it, but now you really have to be on you’re A-game from Q1 to Q4, in the semi and final and then you might have a chance. It’s still not for granted and that’s why this one definitely feels the best.”
Ken Block failed to make the semifinals after suffering transmission problems in Q3 and being forced to free-wheel to the uphill finish line, only just breaking the timing beam, and wound up 16th.
He was one place ahead of double DTM champion Timo Scheider making his second ever appearance for the Munnich Motorsport squad.
Former Junior World Rally Championship driver and World RX finalist Guy Wilks returned to the JRM for the event but struggled with technical problems with the Mini RX.
lead Ekstrom now has the WRX points
Loeb and Solberg fought hard