Sunday, 23 August 2020

Ekström wins after thrilling battle with Kristoffersson.

PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World RX Media
Mattias Ekström has beaten Johan Kristoffersson in a thrilling six-lap straight fight for victory in the second round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship in Holjes. 

The 2016 Champion has been Kristoffersson's biggest rival all weekend. Ekström admitted after round one (yesterday), that he could give Kristoffersson a proper run for his money in a straight fight. 

Ekström started on the second row of the grid after being beaten in semi-final 2 by his teammate Robin Larsson, whilst Kristoffersson started from pole having topped qualifying and winning his semi-final. 

In the final, Larsson had the best launch seeing him, and Kristoffersson fight for track position into turn one. Whilst they fought, Ekström opted for his first lap joker tactic that has worked for him all weekend and gained clean air with only Kevin Hansen behind. 

Larsson went on the attack in the early stages keeping Kristoffersson very honest at the front of the field, but by lap two, the chasing Swede, Timo Scheider, and Andreas Bakkerud took the joker lap. Thus promoting Mattias Ekström into second and clean air with no real distraction. 

From there he was able to post fastest lap after fastest lap reeling in Kristoffersson. On lap 4, Johan had a 2.175-second buffer to Mattias and on lap five responded with the fastest lap of the race to extend the gap to 2.711 seconds, but Mattias eeked closer taking a further four-tenths out of the round one winner. 

In an attempt to drag out a few more tenths, Kristoffersson pushed the limits of the joker lap, but the gap was not enough and he emerged behind Ekström. In a pursuit to try and muscle his way past, the double World Champion tried a number of different lines, but to no avail. 

The pair crossed the line split by 0.194s, but later Kristoffersson was handed a five-second time penalty for hitting two-track markers on the joker lap. 

"Today we made constant adjustments because of the weather, and I have to say that Robin [Larsson] was really contributing and did really good starts. He took me in the semi-final, but then I got clean air in the final, which was key to my win," Ekström said. "I had a clean run and the car worked fine. I heard the gaps to Johan and I could hear that I was reeling him in and then I knew just to bang every lap inch-perfect to beat him and it's quite a pleasure because it's quite a while since someone beat him in that car fair and square because it hasn't happened many times."

"We made a step over the last two years with them [KYB]. To win is what I love and today is a great win!"

Johan Kristoffersson was left with a big smile despite finishing in third-place. 

"It was such a fun final," he said. "First of all, Robin [Larsson] had a good start from there on we had a little bit of a wiggle, so lost a little bit of time in the beginning and then started to push and getting into the rhythm. The car was working fine, so I am happy with that. Then I got the gap to Mattias and I heard that he was really close and then I heard no the radio that I really need to push. Then I got told that I increased the gap a little bit and I am not sure if it was correct or not, and then I had the joker and I knew that I would have to do everything in the joker and I actually cut both the pillars and I was meant to do one, but it turned out to be two and then got a five-second penalty. That was a fight to enjoy!"

Despite his mighty charge in the opening laps, Robin Larsson slowed into the velodrome section, and Kevin Hansen took third with a ballsy outside move soon followed by Timo Scheider. 

"I was there all day challenging the guys ahead a bit, but just not quite enough," Kevin Hansen said. "Then I took advantage of Robin's mistake in the final, and I think it was a pretty bold move around the top (outside) when I did it. I was like... what am I doing? Am I completely crazy or what? It was mega fun. And to get home from Holjes with a podium is great. It's a good start for the team, but we need to keep working hard because we have two fast guys to beat."

PHOTO CREDIT: FIA World RX Media.
The 2019 EuroRX Champion ended the final in fifth, while Andreas Bakkerud brought it home in a distant sixth +31.949 seconds behind Ekström.

A heated battle in semi-final two saw reigning World RX champion Timmy Hansen, Timur Timerzyanov, and Anton Marklund not making the cut. 

Timmy Hansen was later disqualified "unsportsmanlike behavior during competition" after pushing both Bakkerud and Timerzyanov in semi-final 2. 

Niclas Gronholm, Krisztian Szabo, and Anton Marklund also failed to advance to the finals. 

The question on everyone's lips after the thrilling final is: Will Mattias Ekström return for the full-season after winning in Sweden? 

"It was only planned for here [In Sweden]," Ekström said. "I will speak to Joel [Christoffersson] when I get back [to the garage]. I still have other commitments, which is clashing with other weekends. Finland, I admit would be nice, but then afterward it looks really difficult unless some of my bosses, friends or partners would like to contribute for me to continue, but for the time being that is not the plan."

Written By Junaid Samodien 

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