|Turn 1 drama during the final race of the World RX of Catalunya-Barcelona|
Image Credit: FIA World Rallycross
PSRX Volkswagen Sweden and World RX defending champion, Johan Kristoffersson has been declared the winner of the 2018 World RX of Catalunya-Barcelona, after Mattias Ekstrom was disqualified from the final following an incident with Petter Solberg while Sebastien Loeb secured second place finish after an eventful weekend for Team Peugeot Total. EKS Audi Sport's Andreas Bakkerud ensured three manufacturers are represented in the top three.
Starting in pole position with Mattias Ekstrom second on the grid, the LIGHTS went GREEN and away they went. Ekstrom had a lightning start [winning the Monster Energy Super Charge award] seeing him slightly ahead before Turn 1. Ekstrom and Solberg then made contact on the run to turn one, resulting in the latter hitting the track markers (stack of tyres) on the inside of the corner. While Mattias Ekstrom continued in the lead, Solberg rejoined the race in sixth place.
With Ekstrom going on to withstand race-long pressure from Kristoffersson to take the chequered flag first, the Stewards concluded the EKS Audi Sport driver had “Made contact with car #11 [Solberg] on his left… Further, the Stewards considered this to be a dangerous manoeuvre and liable to hinder car #11” and disqualified him from the final.
The decision gifted Johan Kristoffersson his tenth World RX victory.
"This is definitely the best way to start my title defence," he commented. "I squeezed everything I could out of my VW Polo R. I knew it was going to be tight at the exit of the joker but it was an enjoyable fight; Mattias is a very switched-on guy, and he knows exactly how to position his car to make it difficult to overtake. I was happy with second place but while winning like this clearly isn’t the nicest way, I will grab it with both hands."
Loeb's second place came following a remarkable turnaround on a day that initially saw him miss the cut to progress to the semi-finals. A troubled set of qualifying races left Loeb 13th at the intermediate classification, and first reserve for the semi-finals. He was thrown a lifeline when Peugeot stablemate Kevin Hansen, who’d qualified 12th, withdrew from the semi-finals.
An early Joker Lap gave Loeb the edge over Bakkerud and an unexpected second place ahead of the Norwegian, who later gave Audi something to cheer by inheriting third place overall on his debut with the team.
"It’s amazing how many different emotions you can experience over the course of a rallycross weekend," said Loeb. "I went out of both Q2 and Q3 with broken rear suspension, which left me a long way down the classification and I didn’t expect to make it into the semi-finals, let alone the final. I had a bit of luck on my side at last. It’s good to see that the car is competitive. I think we have taken a little step forward from last year, and we are here in the fight, so hopefully we can continue in this way."
"It was a very tricky weekend with challenging and changing conditions," added Bakkerud. "I am pleased to be in the final already in the first race with my new team and new car. I see a huge potential, not just for me but for the whole of EKS Audi Sport. I need to push even harder, because I want to go all the way to the top at round two in Portugal."
GRX Taneco enjoyed a strong start to the 2018 season with its new Hyundai i20 as Niclas Gronholm claimed a career-best World RX result in fourth position. The young Finn finished ahead of Solberg who ran sixth on the road before being elevated to fifth at the expense of rival Ekstrom.
GC Kompetition enjoyed a positive World RX debut with its Prodrive-developed Renault Megane R.S RX after Guerlain Chicherit and Jerome Grosset-Janin both reached the semi-final stage and demonstrated competitive pace. However, there were mixed fortunes for returning former Teams' champions Olsbergs MSE with Robin Larsson reaching the semi-finals but Kevin Eriksson failing to progress beyond the qualifying races after an uncharacteristic crash in Q2 dented his chances.
The FIA World Rallycross Championship heads to Portugal for the World RX of Portugal at Montalegre in two weeks’ time (28-29 April).
Source: FIA World Rallycross
Image: FIA World Rallycross Media