Petter Solberg gave a commanding performance in the Supercar Final to take his third win of the FIA World Rallycross season at Loheac in France.
However it was Peugeot-Hansen driver Timmy Hansen who dominated Heats One and Two on Saturday with the Red Bull backed 208 Supercar looking much more competitive this time out. In fact Hansen carried that momentum forward to Sunday where he was also fastest in Heat Three.
There were several surprises in Heat One, notably Monster Energy World RX Team Davy Jeanney winning race one in his Citroen DS3 Supercar before later being disqualified for being underweight, whilst Ken Block gained a 30 second penalty for not taking a Joker Lap in his Heat One race, however the American Gymkhana star had plenty of speed in reserve.
At the end of Day One behind Hansen were Solberg, the ESRX Audi A1 of Pontus Tidemand, Olsberg Ford’s Reiniss Nitiss, French Rallycross Ace Jerome Grosset-Janin, Hansen’s team-mate Timur Timerzyanov, VW-Marklund’s Anton Marklund and the 2nd ESRX Audi of Edward Sandstrom. Completing the top twelve were French Rallycross drivers Gaetan Serazin, Fabien Pailler and Christophe Wilt along with Albatec Racing’s Andy Scott.
After Heats Three and Four were completed, the top twelve drivers that qualified for the Semi-Finals were Hansen, Tidemand, Timerzyanov, Marklund, Topi Heikkinen and Serazin who would all compete in Semi Final one. Semi Final Two would see Solberg, Nitiss, Grosset-Janin, Andreas Bakkerud, Block and Scott take part.
The six lap Semi Final One saw Hansen make a poor start and go wide at Turn One, whilst Tidemund took the lead. Hansen passed Serazin on lap three as the frenchman retired with a puncture. Timurzyanov pursued Tidemund until his Joker lap on lap five, where he lost second place to Hansen. Heikkinen and Marklund chased the two Peugeots to the line for third place but would ultimately lose out, seeing Tidemund, Timerzyanov and Hansen progress to the Final.
The six lap Semi Final Two had an even start off the line from all six Supercar drivers, but it was Solberg who led from Nitiss through turns one and two whilst Block made contact with both Bakkerud and Grosset-Janin. Grosset-Janin would later retire after contact with Andy Scott going into the Joker lap. Block and Nitiss pursued the flying Solberg as best they could, but after they completed their Joker laps, Solberg won ahead Nitiss and Block, all three progressing to the Final with Bakkerud, Scott and Grosset-Janin going no further.
In the Supercar Final, Solberg was on Pole Position with Tidemand next to him, Row Two had the young chargers of Hansen and Nitiss with Timerzyanov and Block on row three. Solberg led Nitiss and Tidemand away at the start as Hansen fell back into fourth. Going into the Joker Lap on lap one, Hansen hit his Peugeot team-mate, with Timerzyanov retiring on the spot. Hansen would go on to chase Nitiss to the flag whilst Solberg, despite smoking his tyres, controlled the race in front, going on to take his third event win of the season. Nitiss and Hansen completed the podium with Block fourth ahead of Tidemand and Timurzyanov.
“I’m tired, exhausted, sweaty and happy – this has been an unbelievable weekend,” grinned Solberg, “Yesterday was not perfect – we struggled with tyrewear but my mechanics worked really hard on the car until 1am this morning and I noticed a big change overnight. I have a lot of new parts for the next race in Germany so as long as we keep scoring points, everything looks very good for the Championship.”
Nitiss was equally as happy with his podium after a couple of tough events, “Last year I won in Super1600 in Loheac so I am really happy to be back on the podium again but this time in the Supercar. I love this event – there are so many fans and the circuit is amazing with lots of flat out sections.”
Third place driver Hansen was a bit disappointed to score third place on the podium after dominating the first three Heats. “I am a little disappointed to finish third but I know that I won’t be tomorrow morning as it is a great result for the team,” he explained, “I gambled a bit in the semi-finals – I had the RPM too low and didn’t have the best start. I was at the back of the grid for the final but I think I had one of the best races of my life as I fought my way up to second place before dropping to third. I know we’ve had a fast car this year and I’m really happy to have been able to have been able to produce a podium for Peugeot in front of the manufacturer’s home crowd.”
Solberg now has a 28 point lead over Nitiss, whilst Heikkinen falls back to third in the Drivers Title race, a further 11 points behind the Latvian Ford driver. In the Teams Title Chase, Ford OlsbergsMSE now has a 12 point gap over the VW-Marklund Squad, whilst Peugeot-Hansen remain in third place.
The 2014 FIA World Rallycross Championship now moves onto Round Nine of the calendar, to be held at Estering in Germany in two weeks time on 20-21st of September.