Sunday, 27 December 2020

Ekström rules out return to World RX in 2021.

2016 FIA World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekström has ruled out a return to the championship in 2021. 

Ekström made an unexpected return to the championship this year, as a replacement for Jānis Baumanis who could not compete due to budgetary issues linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Immediately following the 2018 World RX finale in Cape Town, South Africa, the Swede announced that he will no longer compete as a full-time entrant. However, you can not keep a champion away from the highly competitive World RX championship. He returned for a one-off appearance with JC Raceteknik at the World RX of Benelux where he claimed a tenth-place finish. 

In the latter half of the 2019 season, the Swede took up an advisory role assisting the Monster Energy RX Cartel, as Andreas Bakkerud was in championship contention. However, it was not to be for the Norweigan who ended the season as vice-champion having finished the season on equal points to rival Timmy Hansen. 

A few months later, EKS announced that they would be selling a few Audi S1 Quattro's to Joel Christoffersson's JC Raceteknik. 

After a thrilling and captivating 2019 season. Could anything really top that? The answer was rather simple, YES! 

JC Raceteknik made their World RX debut under the banner KYB Team JC with Robin Larsson and Baumanis at the wheel. However, those plans soon changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which meant the 2020 calendar would need to be altered. 

World RX in 2020 was originally set for an 11-round calendar, but due to a later start than usual and the COVID-19 pandemic, the calendar was watered down to 8-rounds at four venues.

Four venues, four doubleheaders, eight rounds, and thrilling action from start to finish. Any mistakes or errors would be costly. And, to spice things up even further, double World RX champion Johan Kristoffersson returned in a VW Motorsport Polo. 

Could anyone stop, Johan? Yes! 

Ekström would be a strong candidate as he returned as a super-sub in the second Audi S1 Quattro with KYB Team JC. 

No-one would have expected to see Mattias return, a return that would ultimately be a blessing in disguise for the championship, as he took the fight to his fellow countrymen.

The pair were closely matched throughout the season, but it was Johan Kristoffersson who came out on top with four event wins, with Ekström claiming two wins and a few second-place finishes seeing him end the season as vice-champion for the third time.

"I got into this season without having a thought of driving rallycross again, and we sit here with the title in the Teams’ Championship and second in the Drivers’ Championship. The only other goal was of course to also win the Drivers' title, but we were simply not fast enough," Mattias Ekström said. 

KYB Team JC led the teams' championship from start to finish with Team Hansen only coming on strong at the tail end of the season. 

The 2016 World Champion admits that he had more fun driving as a hobby instead of as a factory team, and pinpoints his wins in Holjes and Riga as the best races of the season. 

"It has meant a lot to me to compete and have fun again together with JC Raceteknik, driving as a hobby instead of as a factory driver is a huge difference," he said. "In Holjes for example I had the coolest rallycross race of my career on Sunday, and then another fantastic Sunday in Riga."

Despite finishing second in the championship, Ekström believes that the season went better than expected, and he is very proud to see how KYB developed shock absorbers that are capable of winning races and potentially championships. 

"I think it [the season] went better than expected to complete the season despite Coronavirus. We had a little trouble with some things, but that's also part of the rules of the game. It's fun that there are sponsors and companies who are willing to invest even in tougher times, especially since a lot of things have been quite last minute," he said. "I am also very proud to see how KYB has developed shock absorbers that can win the World Championship."

A return to top-flight rallycross was never on Mattias Ekström agenda in 2020, as he became a test driver for the CUPRA e-racer programme, in addition to competing in the full 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship. It was also announced that the Swede will be the male driver for the ABT CUPRA XE team in the 2021 Extreme E series. 

Having fully committed to the Extreme E series, Ekström has ruled out a return to the World Rallycross Championship in 2021. 

"A year ago I said that the chance was zero that I would return to rallycross, but I had to jump in and it was full push again. So if I said no a year ago, I must say no again. In 2021, my priority will be Extreme E,” he said.

Can we really rule out Mattias Ekström from a return to World RX? It's quite simple... No! Mattias has a competitive fire burning within him, and if he is given an opportunity in a top-flight car or team. He will undoubtedly grab the opportunity with both hands. So, it's not the end just yet! 

Written By - Junaid Samodien.

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