Johan Kristoffersson has been named the winner of the World RX of Catalunya-Barcelona, round one of the 2018 FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy, after first-on-the-road Mattias Ekstrom was disqualified from the final following an incident with Petter Solberg. Sebastien Loeb secured second place finish after an eventful weekend for Team Peugeot Total, while EKS Audi Sport's Andreas Bakkerud ensured three manufacturers are represented in the top three.
Starting alongside one another on the grid after winning their respective semi-finals, Ekstrom and Solberg made contact on the run to turn one, resulting in the latter hitting the track markers on the inside of the corner. While Ekstrom continued in the lead, Solberg – who set the event's fastest lap around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya during the first semi-final – rejojned the race sixth and last.
With Ekstrom going on to withstand race-long pressure from Kristoffersson to take the chequered flag first, Stewards concluded the EKS Audi Sport driver had “Made contact with car #11 [Solberg] on his left… Further, the Stewards considered this to be a dangerous manoeuvre and liable to hinder car #11.” and disqualified him from the final.
The decision gifted Kristoffersson his tenth World RX victory, levelling the score with Ekstrom and Solberg , the three World RX Champions responsible for 30 victories across the 50 events run so far.
"This is definitely the best way to start my title defence," he commented. "I squeezed everything I could out of my VW Polo R. I knew it was going to be tight at the exit of the joker but it was an enjoyable fight; Mattias is a very switched-on guy, and he knows exactly how to position his car to make it difficult to overtake. I was happy with second place but while winning like this clearly isn’t the nicest way, I will grab it with both hands."
Loeb's second place came following a remarkable turnaround on a day that initially saw him miss the cut to progress to the semi-finals. A troubled set of qualifying races left Loeb 13th at the intermediate classification, and first reserve for the semi-finals. He was thrown a lifeline when Peugeot stablemate Kevin Hansen, who’d qualified 12th, withdrew from the semi-finals.
An early Joker Lap gave Loeb the edge over Bakkerud and an unexpected second place ahead of the Norwegian, who later gave Audi something to cheer by inheriting third place overall on his debut with the team.
"It’s amazing how many different emotions you can experience over the course of a rallycross weekend," said Loeb. "I went out of both Q2 and Q3 with broken rear suspension, which left me a long way down the classification and I didn’t expect to make it into the semi-finals, let alone the final. I had a bit of luck on my side at last. It’s good to see that the car is competitive. I think we have taken a little step forward from last year, and we are here in the fight, so hopefully we can continue in this way."
"It was a very tricky weekend with challenging and changing conditions," added Bakkerud. "I am pleased to be in the final already in the first race with my new team and new car. I see a huge potential, not just for me but for the whole of EKS Audi Sport. I need to push even harder, because I want to go all the way to the top at round two in Portugal."
GRX Taneco enjoyed a strong start to the 2018 season with its new Hyundai i20 as Niclas Gronholm claimed a career-best World RX result in fourth position. The young Finn finished ahead of Solberg who ran sixth on the road before being elevated to fifth at the expense of rival Ekstrom.
Ekstrom nonetheless goes home with the Monster Energy Super Charge Award for the quickest reaction off the start-line.
GC Kompetition enjoyed a positive World RX debut with its Prodrive-developed Renault Megane R.S RX after Guerlain Chicherit and Jerome Grosset-Janin both reached the semi-final stage and demonstrated competitive pace. However, there were mixed fortunes for returning former Teams' champions Olsbergs MSE with Robin Larsson reaching the semi-finals but Kevin Eriksson failing to progress beyond the qualifying races after an uncharacteristic crash in Q2 dented his chances.
In the FIA European Rallycross Championship, Latvia's Reinis Nitiss swept to a dominant victory in the Supercar category. Leading from turn one in the Set Promotion Ford Fiesta, Nitiss escaped to win by three seconds over defending champion Anton Marklund, with Jean-Baptiste Dubourg completing the podium in his G-Fors Renault Clio.
Artis Baumanis added to Latvia's success by taking victory in the opening round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship for Super1600. He was joined on the podium by Volland Racing team mate Gergely Marton (Hungary) and Frenchman Jimmy Terpereau.
Paul Bellamy, World RX Managing Director for IMG, commented: "It has been a fantastic start to the 2018 World Rallycross Championship, one that sets the stage for what is clearly going to be an action-packed season. We have seen a crowd of 30,000 fans pack the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya grandstands over the weekend, which is an increase on last year and demonstrates the growing popularity of World RX as it begins its fifth season. With all teams showing competitive pace throughout the weekend, we’re certain the 2018 season will be incredibly close all the way to the final round in South Africa on 24-25 November."
The FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy will resume with World RX of Portugal at Montalegre in two weeks’ time (28-29 April).
Full results from the World RX of Catalunya-Barcelona can be found at the following link: www.fiaworldrallycross.com/results
Full Championship standings can be found at the following link: