The reigning FIA World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekström, entered this weekend’s round five of the series, at the historic Lydden Hill Race Circuit in Kent, best known as the Home of Rallycross, hoping for a podium finish, so as to consolidate his Drivers’ Championship lead.
However, this was not the case, as the pace-setting PSRX Volkswagen Sweden squad of Petter Solberg and Johan Kristoffersson literally dominated the weekend, from the early qualifying stages all the way to the final, where two-time World Rallycross Champion Solberg took the chequered flag, with Kristoffersson second.
Ekström, meanwhile, did no better than a fifth-place finish due to a puncture (and eventual loss of tire), behind Andreas Bakkerud (Hoonigan Racing Division) and Sébastien Loeb (Team Peugeot-Hansen), but ahead of Loeb’s team-mate Timmy Hansen.
“I started well and held third place consistently in the qualifying sessions behind the strong Polos,” said Ekström.
“In the semi-final, things weren’t quite right, which is why I had to start the finale from the third row.”
After a good start and a thrilling battle with Loeb, a puncture dropped the Swede down the order. At the end, he finished fifth.
“We have to be honest. Winning here was never on the cards, but a podium finish was. But to achieve this, everything would have had to run perfectly.”
Ekström’s disappointing finish also meant that he lost his tight Drivers’ Championship lead over his countryman Kristoffersson: at 120 points, the two-time Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Champion is now four points shy of the Volkswagen driver.
Things haven’t gone much better for Ekström’s team-mates, either: Finland’s Toomas ‘Topi’ Heikkinen qualified for a semi-final spot for the fifth time in as many events contested, but a sixth-place finish meant he could go no further.
“The semi-final is always the minimum goal, says Heikkinen.
It’s disappointing that it wasn’t quite enough again this time, but the engine failure on Saturday had me playing catchup immediately,”
But it was Reinis Nitiss, of all the EKS men, the one who endured by far the worst of weekends: a crash in Q2, and subsequent DNF, meant he finished sixteenth overall: no semi-final, then.
EKS are now looking forward to round six of the series, 9-11 June at Hell, Norway. Of the three drivers, Latvia’s Nitiss is the one with the fondest memories of the Norwegian track: at the age of 18 years and 181 days, he became the youngest ever WorldRX event winner back in 2014.