FIRST WORLD RAL­LY­CROSS WIN FOR LOEB

LEG­END TAKES LATVIA BAT­TLE

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - Pho­tos: Mck­lein/ LAT RE­SULTS FIA World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship, round 10/13 When: October 1/2 Where: Riga, Latvia

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ebastien Loeb has dom­i­nated the World Rally Cham­pi­onship for al­most a decade, has won in World Tour­ing Cars, led the Dakar Rally and de­stroyed the record on the Pikes Peak hill­climb at his first and only at­tempt.

But for 2016, he moved to a dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pline, ral­ly­cross, and con­fessed him­self that he had re­verted to be­ing the rookie in a field of ex­pe­ri­enced RX driv­ers.

Driv­ing the Team Peu­geot-hansen 600bhp Su­per­car has, of course, been no prob­lem for ar­guably one of the great­est driv­ers of all time. For Loeb, his great­est chal­lenges have been the ex­treme na­ture of the rac­ing it­self, and get­ting up to speed with other driv­ers who have vis­ited the cir­cuits in the FIA World Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship in pre­vi­ous years.

Test­ing is one thing, but ac­tu­ally rac­ing on the same cir­cuits is quite an­other, es­pe­cially when the sur­face of a ral­ly­cross cir­cuit is a con­stantly evolv­ing fac­tor.

Loeb’s ral­ly­cross race­craft has been tak­ing steps for­ward in re­cent events, as has his Peu­geot 208, and the 10th round of the cham­pi­onship last week­end in Latvia posed one of the best op­por­tu­ni­ties yet for him to fight for his first World RX win.

Rac­ing on the newly built ral­ly­cross cir­cuit at the his­toric Bik­ernieki Na­tional Sports Base, on the out­skirts of Riga, in World RX was a first-time for ev­ery­one. There was no prior ex­pe­ri­ence to draw on. To any­one just watching the six-lap fi­nal from the Lat­vian event on Sun­day af­ter­noon, it was a ‘typ­i­cal’ Loeb per­for­mance.

The French­man se­cured his first World RX vic­tory in dom­i­nant fash­ion, lead­ing the race from start to fin­ish in chal­leng­ing con­di­tions, set­ting fastest lap af­ter fastest lap in the early stages to se­cure his op­por­tu­nity to cel­e­brate with the plat­ter of donuts he has been hop­ing for all sea­son.

While Loeb won, he had to share the ma­jor story with the sport’s two other high pro­file driv­ers, Mat­tias Ek­strom and Pet­ter Sol­berg. DTM star Ek­strom held a 10-point lead over Sol­berg in the stand­ings head­ing into the event, and the pair met on track in Q2 on Satur­day af­ter­noon, in a race that also in­volved Loeb.

On the last lap of the en­counter, Ek­strom passed Sol­berg at turn three, be­fore Sol­berg re­took the po­si­tion into the fol­low­ing hair­pin, Ek­strom run­ning wide from the move and into the bar­rier on the out­side.

The two had al­ready lost sig­nif­i­cant time with the fight, but Sol­berg was about to lose even more as he was later black flagged for push­ing and over­tak­ing Ek­strom, leav­ing him at the bot­tom of the or­der overnight.

At the start of a rain-soaked day two, Sol­berg ran in the very first race, but suf­fered from a steamed up wind­screen and crashed into the wall on the in­side of the last cor­ner on the penul­ti­mate lap. He got go­ing, but was passed by Ni­clas Gron­holm, and 14th fastest ended any chance of mak­ing the semi-fi­nals. The Nor­we­gian wound up 17th over­all, the first time in World RX his­tory he

1 Ek­strom 228pts; 2 Kristof­fers­son 201; 3 Pet­ter Sol­berg 194; 4 Bakkerud 192; 5 Loeb 180; 6 Hansen 165. 1 EKS 353pts; 2 Team Peu­geot-hansen 345; 3 Volk­swa­gen RX Swe­den 265; 4 Hooni­gan Rac­ing Divi­sion 247; 5 World RX Team Aus­tria 187; 6 Ols­bergsmse 97. Euro RX (6 laps): 1 Tommy Rus­tad (Peu­geot 208) 5m45.303s; 2 Kevin Hansen (Peu­geot 208) +0.722s; 3 Ta­mas Pal Kiss (Peu­geot 208); 4 Jerome Gros­set-janin (Peu­geot 208); 5 Peter Hed­strom (Volk­swa­gen Polo); 6 Tord Lin­nerud (Volk­swa­gen Polo). Tour­ing­car (6 laps): 1 Fredrik Mag­nussen (Ford Fi­esta) 6m01.979s; 2 Magda An­der­s­son (Ford Fi­esta) +6.037s; 3 Philip Gehrman (Ford Fi­esta); 4 Tor­leif Lona (Ford Fi­esta); 5 Per-magne Royras (Mazda RX-8); 6 Kjetil Larsen (Skoda Fabia). RX Lites (6 laps) 1 Son­dre Ev­jen 5m58.048s; 2 Con­ner Martell +0.562s; 3 Te­jas Hi­rani; 4 Si­mon Olof­s­son; 5 Joachim Hvaal; 6 Thomas Hol­men.

hadn’t made the semi-fi­nals and also didn’t score a sin­gle point.

Al­lied to Sol­berg’s woes, Ek­strom won semi-fi­nal two and fin­ished sec­ond to Loeb in the fi­nal af­ter a rel­a­tively quiet race to ex­tend his mar­gin in the ta­ble to 27 points.

Volk­swa­gen RX Swe­den driver Jo­han Kristof­fers­son topped the In­ter­me­di­ate Clas­si­fi­ca­tion hav­ing set fastest times in Q2 and Q3, but suf­fer­ing from food poi­son­ing he was un­able to con­vert pole po­si­tion into semi-fi­nal one vic­tory. He fin­ished sec­ond to Loeb, and af­ter a lap-two bat­tle in the fi­nal with An­dreas Bakkerud, wound up fifth at the flag.

The points haul means he passes Sol­berg in the stand­ings for sec­ond. Timmy Hansen had aqua­planed into the rear of team-mate Loeb’s Peu­geot 208 in Q3, caus­ing both to spin, but in the fi­nal cap­i­talised when Kristof­fers­son passed Bakkerud over the cir­cuit’s big­gest jump on lap two of the fi­nal and then ran wide.

The mis­take by Kristof­fers­son al­lowed Hansen, who had taken a lapone joker, to pass his com­pa­triot and then also clear Bakkerud when the dou­ble 2016 win­ner took his com­pul­sory ex­tra route on lap three, to climb to third and make it two Peu­geotHansen cars on the podium. The re­sult moves the team run by Ken­neth Hansen to within eight points of the Teams’ Cham­pi­onship lead, headed by Ek­strom’s EKS out­fit.

Triple Euro­pean Ral­ly­cross cham­pion Timur Timerzyanov pushed Ek­strom hard in semi-fi­nal two and made a good start in the fi­nal, at­tempt­ing a move around the out­side of turn one that didn’t work out, his event ended in the bar­rier. Ger­man DTM dou­ble-cham­pion Timo Schei­der im­pressed in a Mun­nich Mo­tor­sport SEAT Ibiza and fin­ished fourth in semi-fi­nal two.

Dou­ble Bri­tish Rally cham­pion Guy Wilks set sixth fastest time in a JRM Rac­ing Mini Su­per­car in Q3 but a start line prob­lem in Q4 pre­vented him from qual­i­fy­ing for the semi-fi­nals. For­mer WRC podium fin­isher Gigi Galli re­turned to World RX with his unique Kia Rio and com­pleted ev­ery race he started as he works on the devel­op­ment of the re­vised car.

Tommy Rus­tad won the FIA Euro­pean Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship fi­nal as cham­pi­onship win­ner Kevin Hansen spun at the first cor­ner and fought back to fin­ish sec­ond. Ta­mas Pal Kiss made it three Peu­geot 208s on the podium. Ir­ish driv­ers Derek To­hill and Ol­lie O’dono­van both qual­i­fied for the semi-fi­nals, while Rus­tad’s Al­batec Rac­ing team mate Andy Scott just missed out on the semis in 13th.

Sol­berg was pinged for con­tact Con­di­tions were test­ing for Loeb

Ek­strom held the points lead

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