EKSTROM WINS WORLD RX CROWN AS ERIKS­SON TAKES GLORY

Swede wins as Ekstrom takes the ti­tle. By Hal Ridge

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week be­fore the penul­ti­mate round of the FIA World Rallycross Cham­pi­onship at the Es­ter­ing in Ger­many, Kevin Eriks­son suc­cess­fully de­fended his Ral­lyx Nordic Cham­pi­onship ti­tle at Gren­land in Nor­way.

He had claimed the ti­tle at the in­ter­me­di­ate stage. It was al­ready done and dusted.

In the fi­nal the for­mer RX Lites cham­pion nev­er­the­less pulled off a fab­u­lous, brave, out­stand­ing, side­ways and bol­shie move into the first cor­ner from the sec­ond row of the grid to drift around the out­side of the front-row starters and take the lead into the fol­low­ing hair­pin.

Back on World RX duty, mak­ing the fi­nal in Ger­many was a great re­sult for Eriks­son in his first full sea­son in the se­ries, driv­ing a car that hasn’t been de­vel­oped as much as its ri­vals have.

A solid sec­ond day of the event meant that Eriks­son qual­i­fied for the fi­nal and started on the out­side of the sec­ond row for the sec­ond time in a week, but this time against far more il­lus­tri­ous ri­vals.

Ti­tle con­tenders Pet­ter Sol­berg and Mat­tias Ekstrom had topped the In­ter­me­di­ate Clas­si­fi­ca­tion and each won their semi-fi­nals to start on the front row and made rel­a­tively equal starts in the dash to turn one.

Eriks­son had other ideas and, on the en­try to the chal­leng­ing turn one, Eriks­son placed his Ford Fi­esta on the out­side line. He grabbed a fist­ful of hand­brake and flung his Ols­bergsmse Ford Fi­esta side­ways, slid­ing his way around the out­side of Sol­berg to take the lead. Mean­while, cham­pion-elect Ekstrom had got caught in the open­ing melee and dropped to sixth po­si­tion.

Eriks­son’s move was ar­guably one of the best made in World RX history, but al­most equally im­pres­sive was his abil­ity to main­tain the lead and ul­ti­mately score his first World RX win in his first fi­nal ap­pear­ance since his de­but in Ar­gentina back in 2014.

Run­ning sec­ond, Sol­berg needed vic­tory to keep his ti­tle hopes even re­motely alive and took his joker on the fourth lap. But when leader Eriks­son took his own com­pul­sory ex­tra route on the fi­nal tour, and even hit the tyre bar­rier on the in­side of the sec­ond part of the joker, Eriks­son just held on to win the race to the fin­ish line by half a sec­ond.

Sol­berg’s sec­ond place would have been enough to take the ti­tle fight to the fi­nal round in Ar­gentina next month, but Ekstrom fin­ished fifth thanks to the demise of Jo­han Kristof­fers­son on lap three when the fi­nal’s other ti­tle con­tender suf­fered a rear punc­ture on his Volk­swa­gen Polo. That lifted Kevin Hansen and Ekstrom up a place.

An­dreas Bakkerud ran third for the du­ra­tion, only climb­ing to sec­ond briefly when Sol­berg took his joker, and had to fend off a hard-charg­ing Hansen in the fi­nal laps. The lat­ter, a for­mer Bri­tish RX Ju­nior Rallycross cham­pion and cur­rent Euro­pean Rallycross cham­pion, equalled his best World RX re­sult of the sea­son at Ly­d­den Hill in fourth.

Bakkerud com­pleted the podium but was ab­sent from the cer­e­mony it­self as he made a brief visit to the med­i­cal cen­tre for a once over after in­hal­ing fumes in his M-sport built Ford Fo­cus RS RX in the clos­ing laps. He had also bro­ken the gear lever for the sec­ond time this sea­son dur­ing the fi­nal.

“It’s just an amaz­ing feel­ing to win,” said Eriks­son. “I’m just speech­less. My plan was to try and make a bet­ter start than the guy in­side me [Hansen] and to get be­hind Pet­ter. but ev­ery­body was so even, so I just de­cided to try the out­side and hoped for the best, and it went good. I’ve felt I had the speed here over the whole week­end.”

Sec­ond-placed Sol­berg was full of praise for Eriks­son’s drive in the fi­nal, which was the sort of per­for­mance akin to the dou­ble World RX cham­pion him­self.

“I was very im­pressed with Kevin’s move, so con­grat­u­la­tions to him,” said Sol­berg. “It was good fun. It’s sad that we can­not take the cham­pi­onship to the fi­nal round. We came here to fight for the vic­tory and we did, we did a good per­for­mance and the first cor­ner was quite tough.

“I saw Kevin and I had a clear line to go straight, but then I got a touch from be­hind. He had very good speed in the fi­nal and it was very well driven.”

While Ekstrom wrapped up the driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship, his EKS team also ex­tended its mar­gin in the teams’ stand­ings, thanks in part to nei­ther of Team Peu­geot-hansen’s Se­bastien Loeb or Timmy Hansen fea­tur­ing at the front of the In­ter­me­di­ate Clas­si­fi­ca­tion and both fail­ing to make it into the fi­nal. In­deed, both fin­ished be­hind young Peu­geot col­league Kevin Hansen.

An­other to miss out on the fi­nal was Lat­vian Ja­nis Bau­ma­nis, who im­pressed with his maiden fastest over­all time in Q1 and re­mained in the top four through the event un­til the semi-fi­nals stages.

For­mer mul­ti­ple Euro RX and World RX event win­ner Tan­ner Foust made his first start in the se­ries since the Bri­tish round but, just like at Ly­d­den Hill, was ham­pered by me­chan­i­cal prob­lems and wasn’t able to make the semi-fi­nals. Ken Block did, but re­tired on lap two with bro­ken steer­ing.

Eriks­son took the win after a stun­ning pass

Sol­berg took sec­ond, but couldn’t de­fend his ti­tle

Ekstrom is cham­pion for 2016

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