Ekström retains championship lead despite missing out on podium in Mettet

Mattias Ekström leads his rivals Johan Kristoffersson and Petter Solberg at Mettet...as well as in the championship - Photo credit: Audi Sport

Last weekend’s round four of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, at Mettet in Belgium, didn’t exactly fulfill the hopes of the Audi Sport-backed EKS team, whose lead driver, reigning World Champion Mattias Ekström, failed to score a record-setting fourth consecutive win, even missing out on the podium with a fourth-place finish in the all-Scandinavian final. Despite the slightly disappointing result, the Swede still tops the standings, although his gap to second-overall Johan Kristoffersson, winner of the Belgian meeting, is now reduced to just three points.

The weekend’s beginning looked like a repetition of the past three events, with Ekström and his team-mates, Toomas ‘Topi’ Heikkinen and Reinis Nitiss, all three struggling to keep up with the pacesetters, this time in the form of Kristoffersson’s and Petter Solberg‘s PSRX Volkswagen Sweden VW Polo GTI Supercars.

“Saturday was rough,” says Ekström, who was only P7 in the overnight standings. “Q3 and Q4 were highs and lows then – a really good result and a really bad one after we suffered suspension damage in Q4. That cost us a better grid position in the semifinal”, reckons Mattias.

A second-row start in his semifinal didn’t quite live up to his expectations, but still he managed to clinch the all-important third place, and with it, a back-row spot for the final.

“From the third row, I tried everything, but overtaking here is near-impossible. Fourth place was the best I could do.” A victory would have made Ekström the first driver in WorldRX history to win four rounds in a row, or, as he likes to say, “making it a quattro“.

“I’m not interested in records. I’m still the leader of the standings and that’s what matters,” says the 38-year-old.

As for Ekström’s team-mates, Finland’s ‘Topi’ Heikkinen fought a fierce battle in his semifinal, although his fourth-place finish left him deeply unrewarded.

“This is not the result I was hoping for, he says.  I’ve won twice before in Belgium, but this weekend I was lacking that little bit of fortune you need in rallycross.”

Third-car entry Reinis Nitiss from Latvia struggled all weekend, qualifying a disappointing thirteenth, thus just missing out on the semifinals.

The whole EKS team are now looking forward to round five of the championship (26-28 May) in Great Britain at the historic Lydden Hill Circuit, the world’s oldest rallycross venue as well as the discipline’s spiritual home, where Ekström already claimed victory last year, as well as second place in 2015.