Sebastien Loeb has claimed his first ever rallycross victory at the wheel of a Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar after triumphing at this weekend’s Neste World RX of Latvia, round ten of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy. Loeb is the first driver ever to win events in three different FIA World Championships [World RX, WRC and WTCC].
Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom finished runner-up in his Audi S1 EKS RX Quattro, while Timmy Hansen finished third to make it a double podium for Team Peugeot-Hansen. In the overall World RX driver standings, Ekstrom now leads the standings by 27 points with only two rounds remaining.
For the first time in 35 races, reigning Champion Petter Solberg failed to make the semi-finals after the PSRX driver was disqualified from race two after making contact with Ekstrom. “It goes without saying, this result was not what we wanted from our first ever race in Latvia – this is the first time that I have not made a semi-final. But we move on from this and look forward to the next round in Germany,” explained Solberg.
Solberg’s 17th place finish this weekend has elevated Johan Kristoffersson to second on the leaderboard with 201 points, seven points ahead of Solberg who has 194. In the overall team standings, EKS continues to lead but Team Peugeot-Hansen has narrowed the gap substantially – only eight points now separate the two squads at the top of the leaderboard.
Loeb amassed a staggering 78 victories in his WRC career, but today was his first win in World RX and the Frenchman was visibly delighted. “This feels really, really great,” grinned Loeb. “I’m really happy for my team and especially for my chief mechanic [Martins] who is from Latvia. My goal at the start of this year was to win in RX and I always knew that would be a big challenge in my first year. For the last couple of events, however, I have felt like I was getting closer and today the hard work has paid off. Thank you to my team for helping to make this happen, they have done a really good job with the car. It’s always nice to come to an event with such a good atmosphere and where the people are pleased to see you – even the country’s President and Prime Minister were here this weekend so that is impressive. The track was very good also, and the tyres worked well in the conditions.”
Championship leader Ekstrom was first to congratulate Loeb on his maiden rallycross victory. “Big congratulations to Seb and Team Peugeot-Hansen – today he was definitely the fastest man on the track and he took a well-deserved win.”
On his chances of winning this year’s Championship, Ekstrom took a humble approach: “For sure, it is good to be in the lead but there are still 60 points available and it’s not over until it’s over! Yesterday proved that one small mistake can prove costly so I must keep my feet on the ground until the next two rounds are finished. I am looking forward to the Estering, I’ve been testing there already this year so I’m feeling confident. I just want to add that I have been very impressed with the new round in Latvia. It is my first time in this country and it has really surprised me about how well everything has gone – they deserve a lot of credit for putting on such an impressive event.”
Third-placed Hansen added: “I’m very happy to get another podium but I’m really happy for Seb too – it feels great to have both cars on the podium. The 208 has worked really well in both the dry and the wet this weekend. In Q3, I lost control of the car and hit Seb when I aquaplaned which I apologise for! Actually, it worked out okay for us both in the end and this is the second race in a row where I’ve felt I had good pace throughout the weekend. With our result this weekend, we are closing in on EKS in the teams’ championship so we’re looking forward to continuing this fight on the track for the next two events.”
Overnight leader Andreas Bakkerud and highest finisher at the Intermediate Classification Johan Kristoffersson battled over third position for much of today’s final. Kristoffersson initially passed Bakkerud over the first loose-surface jump but ran deep into the following corner, allowing Bakkerud and Hansen, who had taken his joker on lap one to move up a position. Hoongian Racing Division’s Bakkerud finished fourth, with Kristoffersson fifth in his Volkswagen RX Sweden run Polo. World RX Team Austria’s Timur Timerzyanov finished sixth – the Russian retired from today’s final after colliding with the tyre wall on turn one.
Home favourites Reinis Nitiss [OMSE] and Janis Baumanis [World RX Team Austria] both made it to the semi-finals but finished fifth and sixth so did not progress to the final. Baumanis hit a wall on the last corner on lap one and was forced to retire, while his fellow countryman Nitiss was stuck in race traffic.
Muennich Motorsport’s Timo Scheider was eighth at the Intermediate Classification and became the first German to reach a semi-final this year. He narrowly missed out on a spot in the final after finishing fourth in the semis behind Bakkerud. Scheider finished the event seventh overall, one place ahead of EKS driver Topi Heikkinen.
Elsewhere, Ken Block had a challenging weekend in his Hoonigan Racing Division prepared Ford Focus RS RX, he retired from Q4 following an incident at turn one. Italian Gigi Galli finished the event 20th overall – the driver continuing the development of his Kia Rio.
Both the FIA European Rallycross Championship for Supercars and the supporting RX Lites Cup were wrapped up in Riga this weekend. Kevin Hansen had already secured enough points at the previous round in Barcelona to secure the 2016 Euro RX title but it was Albatec Racing’s Tommy Rustad who took the Latvia RX race victory – followed home by Hansen who made a miraculous comeback after spinning on lap one and dropping to sixth. Hungary’s Tamas Pal Kiss finished third in Riga. Second and third in the overall Euro RX standings at the end of the 2016 season are Jerome Grosset-Jannin and Tord Linnerud.
In the RX Lites Cup, it was Frenchman Cyril Raymond who was crowned the new Champion. As part of his prize he will drive a Supercar at the next World RX round in Germany. “This is a dream for me – to get to race at the Estering with the world’s best rallycross drivers is the best feeling in the world,” grinned the new Champion. It was Norwegian Sondre Evjen who won the RX Lites race in Latvia with America’s Conner Martell second and Kenya’s Tejas Hirani third.
In the penultimate round of the TouringCar Championship, Norway’s Fredrik Magnussen took the win in his Ford Fiesta. Swedes Magda Andersson and Philip Gehrman finished second and third. In the overall standings, Ben-Philip Gundersen continues to lead – seven points ahead of Andersson. The final round of the TouringCar season will take place at Buxtehude in Germany in two weeks’ time.
World RX Managing Director for IMG, Paul Bellamy, concluded: “It’s been a sensational weekend in Riga and I’m delighted that our first World Championship round in Eastern Europe has attracted 30,000 fans in its debut year. The hard work and organisation from RA Events, the CSSD and the circuit has paid dividends and I would like to thank them for producing what proved to be a seamless event. Despite the poor weather today, the fans braved the rain in their thousands and it was fantastic to see both Janis and Reinis reach the semi-finals in front of the home crowd. It’s also been an honour to welcome Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis, Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis and the country’s Transport Minister Uldis Augulis – their support is greatly appreciated. Finally, congratulations to Sebastien – he is considered by many as the world’s greatest rally driver of all time and it is very impressive to see him now performing so well in rallycross. Mattias now has a healthy lead in the driver standings but with 60 points still available, the title fight is far from over. Meanwhile, the teams’ championship remains wide open with 120 points available and only eight points separating EKS and Team Peugeot-Hansen.”
There is little time for a rest as the penultimate round of the 2016 World Championship will take place at the Estering in Germany in two weeks’ time (14-16 October)
Full results from Neste World RX of Latvia can be found on the following link: http://www.fiaworldrallycross.com/result/lva/2016
Championship standings can be found at: www.fiaworldrallycross.com/standings