EKSTROM BECOMES A WORLD BEATER
NEW WORLD RALLYCROSS CHAMPION THANKS COLIN MCRAE
Newly crowned FIA World Rallycross champion Mattias Ekstrom says a lesson learned from rally legend Colin Mcrae helped him thrive under pressure of fighting for a world title this season.
Fifth place in the final was enough for the Swede to claim his first FIA World crown at the German Estering circuit.
An emotional Ekstrom explained how advice from Britain’s first world rally champion over 15 years ago helped him to stay mentally strong in the most stressful of circumstances.
Audi S1 driver Ekstrom, who has taken four wins so far this season, has put the championship out of reach with one round remaining in Argentina on November 26/27, and said he had a special trick for handling the pressure of the title showdown.
“Over the years I have met a lot of great motorsport guys. None of them really have been my best friends but I learned a lot from them,” said Ekstrom. “Many people know I like Walter Rohrl and Stig Blomqvist, but how to treat nervousness comes from Colin Mcrae.
“Back on the Swedish rally in 1999 or 2000, I met him and I was so nervous that I could hardly sleep. He gave me a trick, which he called the ‘Colin Mcrae trick’. He explained to me how to do it and since then I have done that to help me prepare mentally. It makes me look boringly calm, but that also feels weird because one of the biggest tricks that helps me mentally is from a guy who is not here anymore.
“I admire the way that he drove and how he behaved. I could never copy him because I don’t have his talent, but it feels special to learn from him and to use what he has shared with me.”
Two-time DTM champion Ekstrom was granted permission by his employer, Audi Sport, to miss the German touring car season finale last weekend at Hockenheim to allow him to race at the Estering. He said winning the title was the most emotional moment of his career.
“When I realised I had done it, it felt like electricity going through my whole body,” he said. “You go from being the strongest person to
a sentimental small boy who feels so weak. I’ve never felt this way before, the first couple of minutes felt so strange, but now I’m starting to like it.”
Ekstrom won the DTM crown in 2004 and 2007 and also claimed Race of Champions victories over Michael Schumacher in 2007 and 2009. “It has been a long time without feeling anything big that beat my previous success, but this title definitely beats them all,” he said.
The Swede followed in his father Bengt’s footsteps by racing at the Swedish round of the European Rallycross Championship in a Marklund Motorsport Volkswagen Polo in 2013 (where he finished second) before creating his own two-car EKS team for selected events in 2014, with a pair of Audi S1s. The aim was to become world champion, and to be able to attend an FIA Awards Gala.
“When I wanted to start EKS, it was for one reason, to win a world title,” said Ekstrom. “I’ve won national championships before, but I really would like to go to those FIA prize givings, which I only read about. This title is because of the sacrifices made by everybody, my girlfriend and children, my parents and every member of the team. It’s pretty difficult to explain, but if you take almost all of your private money, call up every friend you know that loves cars and has a big passion, and decide that every single person that joins this team should be for one reason, to want to be world champion – it is special.”
Ekstrom said that his team’s philosophy was to win with the respect of others, something he works hard to achieve. “Winning has a price, and you don’t want to win if nobody claps their hands,” he said. “I don’t want to go out there and smash into people and p*ss them off because then, the victory has no value. In the beginning of my career I won some times the wrong way and that has no value. This has real value.”
Loeb praises rival
Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb has been racing in his maiden season of World RX this year with Kenneth Hansen’s Peugeot-supported team. The Frenchman beat Ekstrom at the 10th round of the series in Latvia, and believes that the Swede has been the cleverest of the title contenders this season.
“Mattias has done a great job this year. It’s been a consistent and fast season for him,” said Loeb. “He won a lot in the beginning of the season, then when he is not winning he was always still in the fight and always able to score good points. He’s very clever, he tries not to retire from any races. He is a clean and fair driver; not pushing everywhere so I think he has a good talent.”
Loeb, who is fifth in the standings, says Ekstrom is the deserving champion. “It has not been an easy season,” said the Frenchman. “He had Petter pushing him all the time very close in the points and still he was able to manage the pressure, to stay concentrated, keep pushing and doing very good races all the time. For sure he deserves it.”
Ekstrom’s EKS team extended its lead in the Teams’ chase in Germany over Team PeugeotHansen. If his squad wins the title at the final round in Argentina, it will be the first outfit to win both the drivers’ and teams’ crowns.