Johan Kristoffersson has been named the winner of the World RX of Catalunya-Barcelona, in round one of the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship, the win was awarded after first-on-the-road Mattias Ekstrom was disqualified from the final following an incident with Petter Solberg. Sebastien Loeb secured a second place finish after an eventful weekend for Team Peugeot Total, while EKS Audi Sport‘s Andreas Bakkerud ensured three manufacturers were represented in the top three.
Starting alongside one another on the grid after winning their respective semi-finals, Ekstrom and Solberg made contact on the run to turn one, resulting in the latter hitting the track markers on the inside of the corner. While Ekstrom continued in the lead, Solberg – who set the event’s fastest lap around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya during the first semi-final – rejoined the race sixth and last.
With Ekstrom going on to withstand race-long pressure from Kristoffersson to take the chequered flag first, 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 Kristoffersson his tenth World RX victory, levelling the score with Ekstrom and Solberg , the three World RX Champions responsible for 30 victories across the 50 events run so far.
“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. Ekstrom nonetheless goes home with the Monster Energy Super Charge Award for the quickest reaction off the start-line.
The FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy will resume with World RX of Portugal at Montalegre in two weeks’ time on the 28th and 29th of April.
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