FIRST WORLD RALLYCROSS WIN FOR LOEB
LEGEND TAKES LATVIA BATTLE
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.