The FIA World Rallycross championship returned after a three week break for another double-header round at Latvia where Niclas Grönholm took his first Top Qualifier spot of the year after a fantastic fight between himself and Johan Kristoffersson.
Race one saw Liam Doran lining up next to the returning Reinis Nitiss in the Skoda. Anton Marklund and Niclas Grönholm rounded out the grid. Grönholm got a fantastic start and managed to sweep around the outside of Doran into turn one.
No mechanical gremlins for Doran this time as he followed Grönholm at a decent pace. Marklund was not so lucky as he suffered a mechanical issue in sector three, spinning the Megane around after tapping Doran. Grönholm took the win in the opening race of the day.
Race two saw Johan Kristoffersson, Guerlain Chicherit, Timmy Hansen, and Robin Larsson lining up on the grid.In typical Larsson style, he tried to send it around the outside of turn one, to no avail. Kristtoffersson led from Timmy. It was a really close battle between Kristoffersson and Hansen all the way through, with the Peugeot showing great pace. Kristoffersson held on to take the win and the fastest time.
René Münnich lined up on pole for race three next to Timur Timerzyanov, Andreas Bakkerud, and Krisztian Szabo. Timerzyanov and Bakkerud got great starts and slotted into first and second respectively. Bakkerud put Timerzyanov under severe pressure all race long but the Russian held firm at the last lap joker merge to win but the time wasn’t good enough to trouble Kristoffersson.
The final race of the session had Rokas Baciuska, Kevin Hansen, Jani Paasonen, Timo Scheider, and the returning Mattias Ekström. Kevin got the best start and slotted in front of Ekström at turn one. A great battle between Ekström and Hansen ensued with the young gun Kevin just about pipping Ekström at the line. It was a really impressive time from Kevin which put him third in qualifying one but it was another session win for Kristoffersson. The gap was very close at the top
Qualifying two kicked off with Paasonen, Baciuksa, Marklund, and Scheider. Scheider got a brilliant start and managed to sweep around the outside of everybody into turn one. Paasonen clipped the barriers in turn two but managed to carry on. Two laps later, smoke billowed from the rear of Paasonen’s car, forcing him to retire from the race. Marklund had a better run this time, managing to jump Baciuska at the joker merge. Out front, Scheider put in some decent laps and took the heat race win.
Szabo, Nitiss, Münnich, and Chicherit lined up for race two. Szabo got a fantastic start and led from the off. All eyes were on Szabo as he began to match the lap times of Kristoffersson from the previous session. Szabo took the heat race win with a very competitive time ahead of Münnich and Nitiss.
Race three consisted of Larsson, Doran, Timerzyanov, and Bakkerud. Larsson got the best start and led into turn one. Bakkerus slotted himself between teammate Doran and Timerzyanov. Once again there were problems for the GCK meganes later in the race as Bakkerud began to slow in sector two, allowing Timerzyanov through.
On the final lap, Doran spun on the entry to the joker lap and then went into the wall at the joker lap exit. He managed to crawl across the line but surely questions are being asked about the meganes now.
All eyes were on race four which had Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen, Kevin Hansen, Grönholm, and Ekström.Grönholm absolutely flew off the line and shut the door on Kristoffersson immediately. Ekström managed to slot in front of the Hansens as they approached turn two. Kristoffersson was piling the pressure onto Grönholm as he did in Finland but the Finn was showing great pace.
Kristoffersson opted to joker early to try and cover off Ekström and Timmy Hansen, who was also lapping quickly behind. Kristoffersson managed to slot in front of Ekström and Timmy and the chase began. One lap later Grönholm jokered and came out in front of Kristoffersson. He crossed the line to take the win in the heat and the session win but not by much, just 0.200 of a second. Krisztian Szabo’s time was good enough for second place, a fantastic result from the Hungarian and Kristoffersson slotted into third.
Race one of the final qualifying session of the day saw Chicherit, Bakkerud, Baciuksa, and Doran lining up on the grid. It was a fantastic start from Doran and Bakkerud and they slotted into first and second into turn one. The two teammates exchanged lap times all race long. The pair were side by side on the final lap at the joker merge with Doran holding on to take the heat race win ahead of teammate Bakkerud.
Race two consisted of Timerzyanov, Münnich, Marklund, and Nitiss. Timerzyanov took the lead in turn one ahead of Marklund. Disaster struck for Timeryanov as the rear right suspension on his Hyundai gave in, allowing Nitiss to take the lead. Marklund, with his early joker, eventually got in front of Nitiss and took the heat race win.
Ekström lined up on pole for race three next to Timmy Hansen, Scheider, and Kevin Hansen. Ekström fought off the attack from Timmy into turn one and took the lead. The Swede was lighting up the timing screens in the clear air out front. Timmy was staying with Ekström and was also setting good times. At the end Ekström crossed the line to set the fastest time of the weekend so far and go to the top of the standings.
All eyes were now on race four with Grönholm on the pole and Szabo, Kristoffersson, and Larsson next to him. Larsson got an incredible start and swung his Audi around the outside into the lead. Kristoffersson fell back fighting with Szabo on the exit of turn two.
Grönholm and Szabo jokered early which gave Kristoffersson a chance to try and catch Larsson. However, Larsson was flying out front and was managing the gap to Kristoffersson. It all came down to the last lap as Larsson and Kristoffersson jokered. Grönholm was catching them behind and they were pushing to stay in front.
Larsson managed to come out in front of Grönholm but Kristoffersson had to settle behind. Larsson took the win but it wasn’t enough to displace his teammate Ekström who took the session win.
After the points were calculated, it was Grönholm who took his first Top Qualifier spot of the year ahead of Kristoffersson and Ekström. For the first time this year, Doran makes the semi-finals which will certainly be a massive boost for him.
The semi-finals and finals get underway shortly. Stay tuned to find out what happens.