Ekstrom wins home RX round in front of sell-out crowdDouble DTM Champion Mattias Ekstrom has clinched his first-ever FIA World Rallycross Championship victory after a flawless drive in the Audi S1 Supercar at the fifth round of the World Championship presented by Monster Energy.
Ekstrom is the fifth different winner and fourth different manufacturer to win in this year’s World RX. The EKS RX Team driver is also the first this season to score maximum points after being placed highest in the intermediate classifications and winning both the semi-final and final. Norway’s Andreas Bakkerud and Petter Solberg were second and third, despite both drivers incurring punctures in a dramatic final race.
A record-breaking crowd of 34,900 spectators attended the legendary Volkswagen World RX of Sweden this weekend which is arguably the best known rallycross event in the world. Thousands of vehicles lined the Varmland forest surrounding the circuit as a sell-out crowd descended on Holjes to watch 107 races across the Supercar, Super1600, TouringCar and supporting RX Lites Cup. Rallycross is hugely popular in Sweden: it was the first of the Nordic countries to embrace the sport back in 1973.
“If I could write a book and create my dream story I would pretty much write what happened here in Holjes today. This is the best story of my life,” grinned Ekstrom, who finished runner-up in Sweden last year. “In December we didn’t have anything in terms of a rallycross team and we have been late to enter this year but everything has fallen into place. Our ultimate goal is to become World Champions but obviously because of my full-time career in DTM right now that is difficult… but I could definitely be part of a World Championship winning team as the team boss! I’ve never actually been to a FIA prizegiving and I would certainly love to do that.”
Ford Olsbergs MSE successfully extended its lead at the top of the team standings after team-mates Andreas Bakkerud and Reinis Nitiss finished second and fourth in their Ford Fiesta Supercars. Bakkerud had a troubled day yesterday but a top three time in today’s opening heat secured the Norwegian a place in the semi-finals. Bakkerud finished second to Sebastian Ekriksson in his semi and an action-packed final saw the Ford Olsbergs MSE driver take the runner-up spot.
“That was an unbelievable race – absolutely unbelievable!,” explained Bakkerud, who drops to third in the overall drivers’ standings after losing out on points during the heats. “I was pushing so hard in that race, probably to my limit, but Mattias was driving so well. On lap three I got a puncture but then I saw that Petter and Sebastian had punctures too so I started to really push at that point. This is my fourth podium this year so I’m pretty happy.”
Solberg once again put on a fantastic show for the World RX fans, winning two heats and moving ahead of Bakkerud in the drivers’ standings thanks to a healthy points haul. “That was very exciting,” beamed the former World Rally Champion. “I tried everything I could in that race but I had a knock from Andreas in the final lap and I couldn’t get ahead. He is a tough young driver!”
Bakkerud’s team-mate Reinis Nitiss finished fourth this weekend and remains the only World RX driver this season to reach the semi-final of every event. The 18-year-old Latvian now sits nine points ahead of Solberg in the standings.
Monster Energy World RX driver Liam Doran had his best result of the season so far after finishing fifth in his Citroen DS3 Supercar. A likely podium contender, the 27-year-old British driver narrowly missed out on a higher placing due to his car being down on power during the all-important final. Frenchman Davy Jeanney made his debut for the team this weekend and showed tremendous speed but failed to take the joker in heat four which led to a 30 second penalty.
Arguably the most impressive drive of the weekend, however, was that of 21-year-old Swede Sebastian Eriksson who was a guest driver for Ford Olsbergs MSE. Normally a competitor in his national series, Eriksson made his international debut in the Ford Fiesta Supercar this weekend and threatened the World RX front-runners from the outset. Eriksson won his semi-final and looked set for a podium finish after taking the Monster Energy Super Charge Award. A puncture and suspension damage to his Supercar halted Eriksson’s charge and saw the driver finish sixth.
Team Peugeot Hansen had another unlucky weekend despite team-mates Timmy Hansen and Timur Timerzyanov showing good pace in their Peugeot 208 Supercars. Timerzyanov was leading overnight but was knocked out of the semi-finals after a closely fought battle saw the Russian lose out on a top three placing. Team-mate Hansen was knocked out of the next semi-final after an engine problem on lap three meant the 22-year-old was unable to continue.
Volkswagen Marklund driver Topi Heikkinen racked up four top 10 heat times to secure himself a place in the semi-final. The Finn narrowly missed out on a final but remains fourth in the standings after once again proving that consistent times can be just as important as winning races in World RX. Team-mate Anton Marklund made up for lost time today after breaking his car’s suspension and differentials yesterday but did not make the semis after qualifying 14th.
Former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve ended the Swedish RX event 17th in his Albatec Racing run Peugeot 208 Supercar. The driver finished the event’s opening heat 15th yesterday and took a 13th quickest time today but broken suspension on heat two destroyed the French-Canadian’s chances of reaching the semis. Leading female driver Ramona Karlsson delighted a home crowd yesterday with a race win but like Villeneuve failed to make the final 12.
After winning both his semi-final and the Super1600 final, Russia’s Sergej Zagumennov took his third victory in the Super1600 category. Second place was awarded to Ondrej Semtana with Nikita Misyulya finishing third. Zagumennov continues to dominate the standings and now leads Misyulya by 28 points.
In the TouringCar category, Tom Daniel Tanevik clinched the victory in his Mazda RX8. Fredrik Salsten and Per Magne Royras took second and third respectively.
Multiple Junior Rallycross Champion Kevin Hansen missed out on his second RX Lites Cup win in a row after a final lap tussle with series leader Kevin Eriksson knocked the 16-year-old Swede back to second. Third place was awarded to Swedish Touring Car driver Richard Goransson. Eriksson continues to lead the RX Lites Cup, 19 points ahead of Goransson.
Martin Anayi, World RX Managing Director for IMG Motorsport, concluded: “What a sensational weekend it’s been in Holjes, it’s certainly one that will go down in history as one of the most action-packed. We’ve had everything we could have hoped for: over 100 entries, a sell-out crowd, excellent weather and bumper-to-bumper racing. It was the icing on the cake to have Mattias win in front of a home crowd – and I’m certain that the action would have made for excellent viewing for our broadcasters around the world too. Last year we had just over 29,000 fans in Holjes but this year we’ve had nearly 35,000 which is testament to just how quickly our Championship is growing at the moment. It’s good for the Championship to have five different winners in five rounds and it’s fantastic to see Audi on the top step of the podium for the first time too – many congratulations to the EKS RX Team for their tremendous efforts.”
Round six of the FIA World Rallycross Championship will take place at Mettet in Belgium next weekend (12-13 July) as the Championship prepares for its fourth race in five weeks.
By Rachel Cavers