Former World Rally Champions Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb experienced differing fortunes in qualifying at the World Rallycross Championship season opener in Barcelona.
Solberg continued his Saturday form into the final day by setting the fastest time in Q3, track conditions improving throughout under baking sunshine, allowing Solberg’s winning time from the final encounter to be 10.621s up on the previous best time, set by Niclas Gronholm in the third race.
The triple FIA World Champion then led the final race of Q4 and despite just missing out on race victory having been passed through joker lap strategy by Timmy Hansen, remained second fastest to secure top spot.
But, for the second year in succession in Barcelona, Loeb’s difficult opening day continued in Q3 on day two. Beaten to turn one in his Q3 race by Swede Kevin Eriksson, the OlsbergsMSE driver then ran wide in turn two, inviting Loeb to pass on the inside, his Peugeot’s left-rear wheel making contact with Eriksson’s Fiesta, braking the suspension and putting him out.
The pair met again in the first race of Q4 but despite finishing first and second on track, and eighth and 10th overall, neither made the semi-final cut in 13th and 14th.
At the front of the order, reigning champion Johan Kristoffersson and Andreas Bakkerud came together at the corner following the joker lap exit, the Swede having taken the joker and undercutting the Norwegian into the long left-hander, both making a brief visit to the gravel trap on the outside.
They again came together in the first corner in Q4, Kristoffersson closing the door on the pack from fourth on the grid, Bakkerud, Timmy Hansen and Solberg all involved in the contact.
Solberg and Hansen survived to top the Q4 order, Hansen setting the first fastest time of the year for the Peugeot squad and moved to second in the Intermediate Classification. Kristoffersson wound up third overall.
Audi driver Mattias Ekstrom finished second to a rejuvenated Niclas Gronholm in their Q3 race, Gronholm ending up sixth overall post-qualifying on the debut for the GRX team’s WRC-derived Hyundai i20 Supercar.
Ekstrom meanwhile won the third race of Q4 with an early joker lap strategy and was fourth at the Intermediate stage, ahead of his new EKS team mate Bakkerud in fifth.
On the debut of the GCK team’s Prodrive-built Renault Megane RS RX, both Jerome Grosset-Janin and Guerlain Chicherit made it into the semi-finals in 10th and 11th.