EKSTROM WINS WORLD RX CROWN AS ERIKSSON TAKES GLORY
Swede wins as Ekstrom takes the title. By Hal Ridge
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