The French rallycross championship is one of the strongest national ones in Europe, and the proof of the popularity of the sport came with a good crowd at Lohéac for the eighth round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, to see Johan Kristoffersson on the top step of the podium instead of local hero Sébastien Loeb.
Unlike past editions, the high standard of the World RX teams gave practically no room for the privateer entries of the Euro RX and of the national championships to pull any upsets, as the only wildcard entry to advance to the semifinals was Albatec Racing’s Andy Scott, with Tommy Rustad barely missing it.
On the top of the qualifying table was Mattias Ekström, although the shadows of Johan Kristoffersson and Petter Solberg were becoming bigger, transforming this in a potential 3-way battle for the win.
The sunny day of Saturday gave place to rain on Sunday, leaving a slightly damp track for the semifinals, and the balance of the Audi S1 gave Ekström the upper hand at the start of the first semifinal with Andreas Bakkerud taking Petter Solberg out of P2.
Then the race turned into Bakkerud chasing Ekström and Reinis Nitiss chasing Solberg, and the tables have turned when both drivers gave up to the pressure, so Bakkerud won the round. The surprise came a bit behind, when a puncture in the last corner denied the semifinal advance to Ekström, with Solberg finishing second and Nitiss conquering a miracle spot in the final for Münnich Motorsport.
The second semifinal started with Ken Block and Johan Kristoffersson trading paint in the first corners and Kristoffersson taking the lead, and then Block saw a determined Sébastien Loeb in the fight with him for second, changing places each lap. The American-French battle gave room for Kristoffersson to disappear in first and win the race while Loeb established himself in second when Block left the Joker.
The final could be down to a Kristoffersson-Solberg battle, a Loeb win or a surprise in the way, and Kristoffersson confirmed why he was a confirmed favorite right in the first corner when he took the lead, opening the gap to the party between Loeb, Block and Bakkerud, with the Hoonigan duo keeping second and third places.
Kristoffersson was comfortable in first while Bakkerud established himself in second, and then we saw Ken Block’s weekend end in a bad way with a mistake and then a crash in the guard-rail, putting Loeb in the podium, although the nine-time WRC champion had to deal with the WRC champion Solberg, and Loeb had enough guts to hold his position and complete the podium that already counted with winner Kristoffersson and runner-up Bakkerud.
Solberg remains on the way for his third title with 181 points while Ekström is right behind with 176 points, with Kristoffersson and Bakkerud being the outsiders in the championship battle, with 158 points and 157 respectively. Looking to the teams table, EKSRX still dominates with 277 points, but Peugeot Hansen is in close pursuit with 258 points.
After two weeks stopped the World RX goes to Spain to its second race in the smaller version of the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit that normally holds the Spanish GP. The event will be on September 18th.
PHOTO: FIA World Rallycross