The first round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship was held at Montalegre in mixed conditions as the rain of the Saturday (16) gave place to the clear weather of Sunday (17). As the non written rule of being consistent is king, Petter Solberg kept good pace during the weekend and won his first round of the 2016 season.
The wet track and the mud caught some drivers who made mistakes in these treacherous conditions, like Timur Timerzyanov and Ken Block. Then in much more pleasant conditions, EKSRX owner Mattias Ekström was the top qualifier, with Petter Solberg in second and 2015 winner Johan Kristoffersson in third. Sébastien Loeb ended in 7th, while Ken Block didn’t get past the qualify and left Portugal without a single point, differently of the fourth placed team mate Andreas Bakkerud.
Now it was time for the semifinals. Lights were green for the first one, and Ekström and Johan Kristoffersson dashed to the first corner, with the EKSRX driver colliding with Timmy Hansen while Kristoffersson found a way to hold the charging Sébastien Loeb in the Joker.
Robin Larsson led during a few laps but was still in the need to go to the Joker, and this held Ekström behind, and they finally done the Joker Lap, Ekström was in the unlucky side as Larsson got out in third. Checkered flag waved and Kristoffersson won it, with Loeb in second and Larsson keeping his third place.
Then we had the second semifinal and Solberg found out his launch control problem, being a little nervous for having to do it manually. Once the light were out Solberg took the lead with Davy Jeanney behind while the rest of the field went to the Joker, with Andreas Bakkerud forcing his way into Kevin Eriksson’s OMSE Fiesta ST.
Jokers done and Solberg was still in the lead but with Topi Heikkinen and Bakkerud right behind. In the last lap Bakkerud stalled into Turn 1 and Kevin Eriksson took back his position, but a few turns later Jeanney thrown his Peugeot 208 WRX into Bakkerud’s car to generate a chain reaction that sent Eriksson out of his line, and this opportunity, Bakkerud took third place back and held it to the finish. With the mess in the back, Solberg and Heikkinen kept their positions, qualifying to the final.
The first final of the season had its start and Loeb and Kristoffersson went to the Joker while the rest of the field was led by Petter Solberg, with Robin Larsson starting a persistent pursuit to the Norwegian driver.
On lap 4 Solberg did the Joker with Larsson following the normal way, and at the exit of the Joker Solberg had a side contact with Kristoffersson, which sent the Volkswagen Polo RX to the curbs and left the car with a bent suspension in the left front area. The following laps were for Larsson and Heikkinen to Joker and see where they would return, and in the fifth lap it was all as before the Joker: Solberg first, Larsson second and Heikkinen third. Larsson still tried a last push, but Solberg shown extreme precision to take his first win in 2016.
Now we have three weeks until the next World RX round, on May 8th at Hockenheim, Germany, sharing track time with the DTM. Mattias Ekström will go to double duty for both championships.
PHOTO: FIA World Rallycross