One thing that has been certain during the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship is that nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb would take his first victory this year and he did just that at the first ever World RX of Latvia last weekend. In the process, Loeb became the first man to win an event in three different FIA World Championships.
Qualifying on Pole Position after beating Volkswagen RX Sweden driver Johan Kristoffersson to the Semi-Final One win, Loeb powered into the lead in the Supercar Final and was never headed as he reeled off consecutive fastest laps to make sure that he never lost the lead. World RX Drivers Championship leader Mattias Ekstrom guided his EKSRX Audi home in second place and whilst Loeb’s victory is the second this year for Team Peugeot-Hansen, Timmy Hansen completed the podium to give the Franco-Swedish outfit a good haul of points in the World RX Teams Championship.
Ekstrom’s title rival Petter Solberg suffered one of his worst World RX events to date as he finished in 17th place overall after being disqualified from Q2 due to contact with Ekstrom. This finishing position means that the PSRX driver has now dropped to third place in the Drivers Championship, 34 points behind Ekstrom with two events left to go. The Norwegian driver is already looking to fightback next time out in Germany:
“It goes without saying, this result was not what we wanted from our first ever race in Latvia – this is the first time that I have not made a semi-final. But we move on from this and look forward to the next round in Germany,”
Behind the podium trio, Hoonigan Racing’s Andreas Bakkerud finished in fourth place with Kristoffersson falling to fifth place after an early joker lap and struggling for grip during the damp track conditions. World RX Team Austria driver Timur Timerzyanov underlined his determination to take a win in this years World RX season as he qualified for the Supercar Final, however contact at the first corner saw the Russian’s Ford Fiesta make contact with the wall which ruled him out of the running.
Loeb was overjoyed to finally take his first World RX victory:
“This feels really, really great,” grinned Loeb. “I’m really happy for my team and especially for my chief mechanic [Martins] who is from Latvia. My goal at the start of this year was to win in RX and I always knew that would be a big challenge in my first year. For the last couple of events, however, I have felt like I was getting closer and today the hard work has paid off.
“Thank you to my team for helping to make this happen, they have done a really good job with the car. It’s always nice to come to an event with such a good atmosphere and where the people are pleased to see you – even the country’s President and Prime Minister were here this weekend so that is impressive. The track was very good also, and the tyres worked well in the conditions.”
Ekstrom was happy with his second place but would not be drawn on the championship situation:
“For sure, it is good to be in the lead but there are still 60 points available and it’s not over until it’s over! Yesterday proved that one small mistake can prove costly so I must keep my feet on the ground until the next two rounds are finished.
“I am looking forward to the Estering, I’ve been testing there already this year so I’m feeling confident. I just want to add that I have been very impressed with the new round in Latvia. It is my first time in this country and it has really surprised me about how well everything has gone – they deserve a lot of credit for putting on such an impressive event.”
Hansen was happy to get to the podium, in the process helping the team to close the gap in the Teams championship:
“I’m very happy to get another podium but I’m really happy for Seb too – it feels great to have both cars on the podium. The 208 has worked really well in both the dry and the wet this weekend. In Q3, I lost control of the car and hit Seb when I aquaplaned which I apologise for!
“Actually, it worked out okay for us both in the end and this is the second race in a row where I’ve felt I had good pace throughout the weekend. With our result this weekend, we are closing in on EKS in the teams’ championship so we’re looking forward to continuing this fight on the track for the next two events.”
Local drivers Janis Baumanis and Reinis Nitiss both qualified for Semi-Final One at their home event, however they finished in fifth and sixth places respectively. Munnich Motorsport guest driver Timo Scheider enjoyed a more positive outing in Latvia as he qualified for Semi-Final Two, however the DTM driver missed out on a place in the Final by just over a second.
The penultimate World RX event for 2016 takes place at the iconic Estering in Germany on 14th – 16th October.