Mattias Ekstrom has won the 2016 World RX Of Belgium, the third round of the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship and in the process he has taken the lead in the Driver Championship.
Ekstrom was never out of the top ten during the four Qualifying sessions, where he was fastest in both Q2 and Q3 and ended up being Top Qualifier when it came to the semi-finals. He qualified on Pole Position for semi-final One and won the race ahead of Loeb and Francois Duval to give him Pole Position for the Supercar Final. The EKSRX driver would go on to dominate the Final and guided his Audi S1 to secure his second straight victory in 2016.
“I think that was probably one of the best weeks of my rallycross career!” reflected the Swede, who is now five points clear of Petter Solberg at the top of the World RX drivers’ standings. EKS RX also continue to lead the overall teams’ standings,” said Ekstrom.
“People say we made it look easy, but when you consider that the lap times between the top drivers are all within the same tenth of a second, it’s anything but easy! The season is very long and there are a lot of races still to go, so you can never take anything for granted and I’ve been in this sport long enough to know that things can change very fast. We need to remain focused and keep working hard – and that is exactly what we will do.”
Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Sebastien Loeb showed more pace this weekend and that he is soon to become a factor in the championship. Loeb began the weekend by topping Q1 in his Peugeot 208 WRX and remained inside the top ten in all four Qualifying races. Loeb shadowed Ekstrom all weekend and signalled his intent as he finished second fastest in semi-final one and then finished behind Ekstrom in the Supercar Final.
“The level of competition in this championship is incredibly high,” explained Loeb. “There are really tight battles between a lot of drivers, meaning we have to push to the limit at all times and even the smallest of mistakes is heavily punished. It was hard work getting to the final, but I’m really happy to finish on the podium for the first time in World Rallycross and now the goal has to be to keep this positive momentum going.”
Double World RX Champion Petter Solberg set the fastest time in Q4 in his PSRX Citroen DS3 and completed the podium in third place after gaining his place in the final by winning semi-final two ahead of the two Volkswagen RX Sweden Polo’s of Johan Kristoffersson and Anton Marklund who also qualified for the Final.
“The final was going pretty much to plan until I lost some time when [Anton] Marklund spun in front of me,” added Solberg. “I tried to push as hard as I could to fight back, but that overheated the rear tyres a bit and I couldn’t quite pip Seb at the end. I’m happy with the podium but Mattias was the fastest driver this weekend, so we have some work to do. We’ll have to reach into our bag of tricks to see what we can pull out for the next round!”
Behind Solberg, Anton Marklund brought his Volkswagen Polo home in fourth after making a fast start in the final to go from the back row to lead into turn one, before Ekstrom asserted himself in the lead. Marklund kept up the chase however a spin on lap two meant the young driver would fall to fifth place where he battled with OlsbergsMSE guest driver Duval. Marklund passed Duval on lap 5 and cemented his fourth place whilst mechanical issues relegated Kristoffersson to finish in sixth place.
Two drivers who were fast all weekend and well within the hunt for a spot in the Final were World RX Team Austria’s Timur Timerzyanov and Loeb’s team-mate Timmy Hansen, however both men were robbed of that chance by jump starts. Timerzyanov set the third fastest time in Q1 and second fastest time in Q2, before retirement in Q3 saw him fight back in Q4 for a semi-final spot. However a jump start in semi-final one saw him fall out of the top three. Hansen suffered the same fate in semi-final two after a jump start and fell back to miss out on a place in the final.
In the Drivers Championship, Ekstrom now takes the lead by five points from Solberg with Kristoffersson in third place, four points ahead of Loeb, Topi Heikkinen falls to fifth after a difficult weekend.
The 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship now moves to its spiritual home in two weeks time at Lydden Hill in Kent.