The FIA World Rallycross Championship 2018 started with a bang at the opening round at Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona in Spain.
The Qualifying heats Saturday was soaking wet with a lot of mud and rain on the track. The cars were skating around, and even Sebastien Loeb couldn’t keep the car pointing forward, and made a 360 on the wet asphalt, all by himself.
The Sunday was drier.
Sebastien Loeb broke his suspension after a contact with Kevin Eriksson in Q3, and that actually cost the Frenchman a place in the Semifinals. Kevin Eriksson didn’t make it either, but he was just generally too slow over the whole event.
Semi final 1 was to be run with Petter Solberg, Johan Kristoffersson, Andreas Bakkerud, Robin Larsson, Timur Timerzyanov and Guerlain Chicherit, while Timmy Hansen, Mattias Ekström, Niclas Grönholm, Janis Baumanis, Jerome Grosset-Janin and Kevin Hansen should meet in Semi 2. But Team Peugeot Total opted to pull out Kevin Hansen, giving Sebastien Loeb the last spot in the Semi Final 2.
So that made both the new GCK Meganna RS and both new Hyundai I20 go straight into their first semi finals, on their very first outing.
Kristoffersson tried to slam the door against Bakkerud, but that plan didn’t work, and Johan had to drop into third. Chicherit and Larsson were the first two to go for the Joker Lap, The 4 others continued into the penultimate and final laps. Kristoffersson managed to make it past Bakked and made it at PSRX Volkswagen Sweden 1-2, with Bakkerud in third. Timerzyanov, Chicherit and Larsson were a long way behind the three leading cars.
Semi 2 got off to a chaotic start, where almost everybody hit each other into Turn 1. Sebastien Loeb was almost hitting the concrete wall, but got the car steered away from it. Mattias Ekström dropped from P1 to P4. Loeb and Grönholm dived for the Joker Lap instantly. Baumanis chose to go for the Joker on lap2, and got in between Grönholm and Loeb.
Ekström took his Joker Lap on lap 3, and rejoined right ahead of the aforementioned trio. Grosset-Janin came out of his Joker Lap as third, but collided with Niclas Grönholm, which sent him off course, and all the way to last position.
There were all sorts of panic and chaos at the start of the final lap. Timmy Hansen suddenly slowed down on the track, creating a small congestion crash behind him. In all the confusion, Mattias Ekström came out on top ahead of Sebastien Loeb and Niclas Grönholm. Janis Baumanis and Jerome Grosset-Janin missed the final by only a few meters.
There was a drama going into Turn 1 in the final too. Ekström got the best start and closed the door for the chasers. That sent Petter Solberg hard into the tire barrier, but he rejoined. Sebastien Loeb was also on a detour, but then went on to take his Joker Lap instantly.
That tactic gave him an advance, since he was way ahead of Niclas Grönholm, after the latter had taken his Joker Lap. Ekström and Bakkerud took the alternative route at the same time and rejoined second and fourth. Kristoffersson waited until the very final lap to do his Joker Lap, and that was just enough for Ekström to sneak by and take the lead. Ekström made his Audi S1 as wide as possible, and Kristoffersson couldn’t find a way past. So he had to watch his fellow countryman cross the line first, with Loeb finishing third.
However, the race wasn’t decided on the track, but in the stewards room.
The stewards opted to disqualify Mattias Ekström from the finale, and instead gave the victory to Johan Kristoffersson ahead of Sebastien Loeb and Andreas Bakkerud. All that because of the contact in Turn 1.
Johan Kristoffersson leads the World Championship for drivers, while Petter Solberg is second, Andreas Bakkerud third and Mattias Ekström fourth.
So we are all guaranteed an explosive battle for the rest of the season between Solberg and Ekström, since those two already had something going last year.
The second round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship will be run in Portugal on 28-29 April.