The third round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship at Mettet, Belgium, proved that Petter Solberg will have to step up his game to face off Mattias EKström, winner of the event and current World RX leader.
Ekström, Solberg, Sébastien Loeb and Johan Kristoffersson were always on top-4 in the qualifiying standings, proving that the fight would be down to them in the final stages.
The first semifinal was about to start when Timur Timerzyanov jumped the start, so Double Joker for fim. When the lights finally went out, Mattias Ekström was side by side with Sébastien Loeb to then take the lead while Davy Jeanney received a push to a spin, ruining his race.
While Ekström and Loeb had the first and second positions locked, Janis Baumanis was defending himself from the super wildcard François Duval, and in fact he succeeded to finish before the Belgian driver. But then a black flag for Baumanis due to the contact that sent Jeanney off the track, promoting Duval to the third place.
Second semifinal came up and another driver jumped the start, which now was Timmy Hansen, also meaning another Joker Lap to his account. To add comedy to the tragedy, Reinis Nitiss jumped the second start, also receiving the infamous Double Joker. The third is to go, so Petter Solberg had to deal with the Volkswagen RX Sweden machines of Johan Kristoffersson and Anton Marklund while Timmy Hansen made a mistake in the first corner and was demoted to fifth.
The leading trio flew ahead of the rest of the contenders, and Solberg specially was in a good run with Kristoffersson behind him and Marklund sandwiched by Hansen and Kevin Eriksson after his Joker Lap. While Solberg and Kristoffersson kept their positions, Hansen was a man on a mission, trying to do his second Joker Lap before Marklund comes. Unfortunately for Hansen, he went too wide when attacking the Joker and Marklund got past him to get the last spot to the final.
Three of the attractions of the World RX, Ekström, Loeb and Solberg, were in the final and judging by their group talk before the go signal, they were in good spirits. Also, everybody was concentrated not just in going to the lead but also in surviving after the tricky first corner.
Once the green lights were on Ekström dominated the front while Marklund surprised everyone by blasting off from sixth to second from the go to the first corner. Problem is, Marklund missed the corner and almost had his Polo RX in the tire barriers. With this, Ekström was leading Loeb and Solberg on Lap 3.
Ekström kept the fast pace of the weekend, not giving a sight of a chance for Loeb to pass, and then crossing the line to win another event in World RX. Loeb finished second and Solberg completed the podium. Marklund still found pace to finish fourth while Duval finished fifth due to a puncture.
Ekström explained about another master weekend, saying: “I’m so happy, it’s just too demanding to do this, because the adrenaline shock from my body is pretty high. The car was perfect all weekend long, and did one mistake in Q4 with Loeb which I apologize for but the rest was really perfect and I’m so happy because the car drives so wonderfully and my guys work day and night for this.”
The driver’s championship is taking the shape of a Solberg vs. Ekström battle, as the World RX champion loses his lead to the DTM driver, being 78 points against 73. Lurking behind them, Kristoffersson is third with 58 points and Loeb has 54. Between the teams, EKSRX keeps their domination with 124 points against 83 from Volkswagen RX Sweden and 77 from Team Peugeot-Hansen, stealing the third place from Hoonigan Racing Division.
The temple of rallycross now waits the World RX drivers on May 27th, with Guy Wilks back to action in his homeland, now with an Olsbergs MSE Fiesta ST, Tanner Foust back to World RX in a VWRX Sweden Polo RX, and the other wildcard entries will be the EuroRX driver Derek Tohill and the British RX double champion Julian Godfrey.