Ekstrom wins opener amid Solberg woe

Mattias Ekstrom made a comeback to win the opening round of the World Rallycross Championship in Barcelona as polesitter Petter Solberg was forced out of contention at the first corner.

Ekstrom had been fifth on lap one of semi-final two, the Swede jinking his Audi S1 wide on the entry to Turn 1 in a bid for an outside move, but lost out to the chasing gaggle of cars.

He fought back to be second in the latter stages of the race and when Timmy Hansen’s race-leading Peugeot slowed, Ekstrom took the lead and the victory.

Lining up alongside top qualifier and semi-final one winner Solberg on the front row of the final, Ekstrom gained a small margin on his fellow World RX champion in the run to Turn 1, Solberg being squeezed into the tyre wall on the inside of the circuit and into a spin.

As his teammate fell out of contention, reigning champion Johan Kristoffersson slotted into second behind Ekstrom on lap one, sandwiched between Ekstrom and his EKS teammate Andreas Bakkerud.

Fourth on the opening lap, Sebastien Loeb had made it into the semi-finals by virtue of the Peugeot team withdrawing Kevin Hansen’s car from 12th overall, the Frenchman then finishing second in semi-final two thanks to the demise of his other teammate, Timmy Hansen, to make it into the final.

Loeb was the first driver to take his compulsory joker lap at the first opportunity as up the front Ekstrom posted the fastest lap of the weekend on the first tour, the top two extending a margin over Bakkerud in the opening phase of the race.

Pressured by Kristoffersson’s Volkswagen Motorsport-built Polo, Ekstrom served his joker on lap five and slotted back into second ahead of Loeb, who at the same time leapfrogged Bakkerud for a podium place.

Having taken the lead, Kristoffersson pushed hard on the last lap in a bid to jump Ekstrom for victory, but when he exited the joker, Ekstrom retook the lead and defended the racing line to keep Kristoffersson at bay.

Bakkerud finished fourth, while Niclas Gronholm made his second career World RX final on the debut of the GRX team’s Hyundai i20 and was fifth. Solberg completed the race in sixth.

Timmy Hansen had dominated semi-final two and was set for a victory that would have put him on the front row of the final alongside Solberg, but suffered an electrical problem that slowed his Peugeot 208, before being spun as the pack behind forced its way passed.

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