EKSTROM LANDS A WRX DILEMMA

Vic­tory gives DTM star a big de­ci­sion. By Hal Ridge

Motor Sport News - - World Rallycross: Spain - Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

M

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

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