Mattias Ekström's hopes of clinching a second World Rallycross Championship stalled after a challenging weekend at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona plagued with clutch issues, whilst teammate Robin Larsson had a troublesome weekend, as he was involved in a number of on track incidents.
PHOTO CREDIT: JC Raceteknik.
Having taken two wins in 2020, at Holjes and Riga, and finishing P2 three times. The 2016 champion had high hopes for the fourth and final double-header at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona having won in 2016 and 2017 and crossed the finish line first in 2018 until he was handed a penalty for contact with Petter Solberg at the first corner.
Heading into the weekend Ekström had a clear plan, and that was to reduce Johan Kristoffersson's championship lead to single digits, but that plan slipped out the window with a jump start in Q1 due to a clutch issue seeing him finish the session in tenth overall.
Q2 saw Mattias climb up the rankings to sixth, with a further improvement in Q3 seeing him finish behind Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen, and Andreas Bakkerud. In the semi-final, the Swede finished behind Kristoffersson and progressed to the final where he would finish in fourth place.
Hard work overnight by the EKS-supported team on Saturday improved the pace of the Audi S1s for round eight on Sunday. Mattias was on a mission and won two qualifying sessions to take 16 championship points for being the top qualifier, and he would start on pole position for the semi-finals. He finished second in the semi-final and was in contention for a podium finish until he made an error at the final corner and spun off the track, handing third place to Anton Marklund.
After a second-place finish on Saturday (round 7) and a win at round 8 of the championship, Kristoffersson has increased his championship lead to 27 points with two rounds remaining. Mattias needs to ensure that Johan does not outscore him by four points in Belgium to keep his hopes of clinching a second title alive.
"We came here with the hope of having a good weekend as I like the track and so on, but we struggled quite a lot with starts, with the clutches especially, so that was the main topic of the weekend for Robin and myself," Ekström said. "That was for sure not nice and when you’re focusing on a problem, you also reduce the effort to try and work on the setup. I think we came a bit on the back foot on fine-turning the car, and never really got the momentum going."
"You can only say congratulations to Johan Kristoffersson and Timmy Hansen for winning this weekend, they did a better job and we just need to get our heads down, sort out our issues and come back stronger."
Things weren't any better for Ekström's teammate Robin Larsson. Despite posting the fourth-fastest time in Q1, his front right suspension broke seeing him dive nose-first into the tyre barriers after the jump in Q2. And, with a repaired car, he posted the ninth-fastest time in Q3, which wasn't enough to see him progress to the semi-finals. However, KYB Team JC had other plans, as Enzo Ide (JC Raceteknik) made the cut for the semi-finals, he was withdrawn "due to a technical issue", and Larsson would take his place as the first reverse.
Larsson did not have a good start in the semi-finals, and unfortunately, he was unable to gain the spot required to progress to the finals. He'd have to take an early shower and refocus for round eight.
Whilst his teammate topped qualifying on Sunday, the double European Rallycross Champion found himself in seventh overall behind Johan Kristoffersson.
He then finished just behind Ekström in the semi-finals to make the final, then had a good start, but his race ended when he hit Andreas Bakkerud who had been spun at the first corner.
"On Saturday we were all struggling a bit, we didn’t find the pace, especially for Mattias who was at the top all day but he couldn’t find the last little bit. That’s the bad thing about a double-header weekend, sometimes it takes a whole race in one day to find the answers," Larsson said. "We started Sunday really good but I jumped into a hole in qualifying and got a puncture. In Q3 the clutch was overheating, I think we found every bit of bad luck we could this weekend."
"The car felt really good, I had a good start in the semi-finals and I was able to be careful for the last three laps, then in the final, I had a really good start but I had nowhere to go when the cars came together in front of me. Hopefully, we have our bad luck out of the way now."
With two rounds of the 2020 World RX championship in Belgium and Germany, KYB Team JC maintains the lead in the teams' championship standings despite Team Hansen reducing the lead to 16 points.
"It’s been a really, really difficult weekend. Saturday was bad for us, we didn’t have the pace at all and it felt like we almost didn’t earn the speed we had. We really had to work hard on Saturday night and did a good job," Joel Christoffersson, KYB Team JC and JC Raceteknik Team Principal said. "As we have done every weekend it seems we find something on the night after the first race in these double-headers sadly."
"We did some good things and found the speed. Mattias was top qualifier and Robin was P7 in the Intermediate on Sunday, but in the semi-finals we lost the pace a bit against Johan Kristoffersson. I feel sad for Robin for what happened in the first corner of the final, and that we had a problem so Mattias didn’t finish on the podium."
"Team Hansen has done a good job this weekend and caught us a lot in the Teams’ championship, so we really need to re-focus and go to Spa aiming to do some good," he concludes.
Written By - Junaid Samodien