WorldRX 2015: Ekstrom Wins At Holjes

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PREVIEW…

The FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy will visit one of the most legendary venues of the season, the Volkswagen World RX of Sweden, this weekend (3-5 July).  The iconic Holjes event has attracted the biggest entry of 2015 so far with a total of 89 cars including 35 Supercars.  It is also the first time this year that all categories: Supercar; TouringCar; S1600 and the supporting RX Lites Cup will race in the same weekend.

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This year’s Swedish RX round, which is held in the tiny village of Holjes in the heart of the Varmland region, is even more special as it marks the 40th anniversary of the first rallycross event at Holjes. Indeed, Sweden was the first of the Nordic countries to embrace rallycross, and remains the only country to have hosted an event in the European/FIA Championship since it began back in 1973.  Last year’s event was won by EKS driver Mattias Ekstrom but reigning World RX Champion Petter Solberg continues to lead this year’s overall driver standings as he holds a 35 point lead over Johan Kristoffersson.

When asked about his Holjes RX victory last year, Ekstrom explained: “Last year was very special – to win with your own team, building the car together with the guys and doing it in only our third race. That victory was one of the best moments in my entire life and it always will be. I feel that Holjes is one of the tracks where my driving style and our car fits the best. We will keep our heads held high and promise a big show for our local fans this weekend.”

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A total of 29 Swedish drivers will race on home turf including permanent World RX Supercar drivers Ekstrom, Kristoffersson, Timmy Hansen, Robin Larsson, Anton Marklund, Alx Danielsson and PG Andersson.  Female driver Ramona Karlsson will drive her VW Scirocco that she uses to race in the FIA European Rallycross Championship, while Peter Hedstrom will also compete in a Skoda Fabia.  Uncle and nephew duo Stig-Olov and Lukas Walfridson will pilot a pair of Renault Clio Supercars both prepared by Helmia Motorsport. Finland’s Niclas Gronholm, son of double World Rally Champion Marcus, will make his Supercar debut at the wheel of an Olsbergs MSE built Ford Fiesta run by GronholmRX.  Meanwhile, Ole Christian Veiby will compete in the Volkswagen Team Sweden Polo he uses to compete in Euro RX.

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Holjes will also mark the debut of the eagerly-anticipated Volkswagen Beetle which has been prepared by Eklund Motorsport and which will be driven by Norway’s Daniel Holten. The Beetle is only the second car in World RX to run an engine as part of the new-for-2015 custom engine regulations. Team manager Per  Eklund, who will also compete in Holjes with a Saab 9-3 Supercar, explained: “It’s great to be working with a driver like Daniel who has already proven his potential. We are confident that the Beetle is a brilliant base for a Supercar, the dimensions of it are really, really good. We are more motivated than ever and will push hard to continue the development, together with Daniel.”

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Since the previous round at the Estering in Germany, several of the World RX Supercar drivers have been busy with other projects.  SDRX driver Liam Doran attended the world-famous Festival of Speed at Goodwood where he drove his Citroen DS3 RX Supercar up the Hill and clocked a top-ten time. The 28-year-old British driver has joined Solberg for a pre-event test in Sweden this week.It’s been a busy couple of weeks for EKS team-mates Ekstrom and Marklund as both drivers took part in the DTM and supporting Audi Sport TT Cup which was held at Norisring in south Germany. Ekstrom narrowly missed a podium spot in the second race finishing fourth while Marklund was forced to retire from his second race in the Audi TT Cup following an incident at turn one.  Meanwhile, Ford Olsbergs MSE driver Reinis Nitiss has graduated from school back in his native Latvia with an honours diploma. 

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Portugal RX winner Kristoffersson has continued his domination in the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia, once again winning both races to make it six wins from six races. The 26-year-old Swede is now leading the Carrera Cup with a total of 72 points.  Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Timmy Hansen has been getting race fit by riding his mountain bike alongside younger brother Kevin who will race in the RX Lites Cup this weekend.

Sweden RX will form round four of this year’s supporting TouringCar and S1600 categories.  Six Swedish drivers will compete on home soil including current series leader, Fredrik Salsten, and 16-year old Magda Andersson who finished second at the previous round in Germany. “It feels absolutely crazy to be going to race at Holjes at the World RX event,” explained Andersson, before admitting: “I find TouringCar very challenging, there are loads of talented and experienced drivers and I respect them all very much. If you had asked me if I thought we would lead a final this early, before the season had started, I would’ve definitely laughed. I very much didn’t expect these kind of results so early in my TouringCar career.” Holjes will also mark the return of the highly-competitive RX Lites Cup which sees talented Swedes Kevin Eriksson and Kevin Hansen tied at the top of the standings with 55 points apiece after three rounds.

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DAY ONE…

Team Peugeot-Hansen’s Timmy Hansen is leading the Volkswagen World RX of Sweden, round six of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy, after taking the heat one victory and finishing fourth fastest in heat two.

Ford Olsbergs MSE driver Andreas Bakkerud won heat two and is placed second overnight.  His team-mate Reinis Nitiss holds third after the 19-year-old Latvian finished 0.6 seconds behind Bakkerud in heat two.  Reigning World RX Champion Petter Solberg was quickest during this morning’s free practice but some glitches with his car’s engine saw the driver slip to fourth after two heats. Last year’s Holjes RX winner Mattias Ekstrom rounds off the top five in his Audi S1 EKS Quattro.

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“It’s been a great day and it’s fantastic to take a heat win at my home event. I was up against some big names in the first heat [Solberg, Kristoffersson and Bakkerud] so the win felt even sweeter,” confirmed 22-year-old Hansen who posted the quickest heat of the day with a time of 2 minutes 59.8 seconds. “We had a good strategy in heat one and it paid off. The team are making some small changes to the car now but everything is feeling good and I’m confident we can continue for a good result tomorrow.”

Hansen’s team-mate Davy Jeanney was third in heat two but a front-right puncture in the opening heat prevented the Frenchman from finishing today further up the leaderboard.

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“I feel we’ve had good pace today.  We have pushed today but haven’t done anything silly,” explained Bakkerud. “We’ve had two good starts and on the second heat, myself and Reinis discussed a strategy before we started the race.  Reinis took the Joker on the first lap and I took the normal line which worked well.  We had four clean laps and it was a brilliant way to finish the day in front of so many fans, friends and family who are here to support me this weekend.”

Daniel Holten had a solid outing in the all-new Volkswagen Beetle Supercar taking a race win and ending today 16th out of the 35 Supercars that are entered. Holten summarised his day: “The Beetle is brand new so there’s a lot of learning to do but we make some adjustments to the car’s set-up before heat two and everything is feeling good.  I love this track, I’ve been driving here for six years so I know it well. I’ve got pole position in my first race tomorrow so my aim to get a good start and to get a good time so I can try to make the top 12 tomorrow.”

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Elsewhere Volkswagen Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson – who is second in the overall drivers’ standings – showed good pace in his Polo RX Supercar but was given a five second penalty after exceeding track limits.  He ends the day 11th overall.

Ulrik Linnemann, Ben-Philip Gundersen and Andreas Wernersson lead the Super1600, TouringCar and RX Lites categories. Denmark’s Linnemann won the first two heats and was second in his heat two race to Janis Baumanis, who is second overall. Russian Nikita Misyulya ran behind Linnemann throughout the last heat race and is third.

In TouringCar, Ben-Philip Gundersen was fastest twice to lead the rear-wheel drive division, ahead of series leader Fredrik Salsten, who was only about to set 16th fastest time in heat two due to a left rear puncture. Philip Gehrman is third.  Sweden’s Magda Andersson won her third heat race much to the delight of the home crown and is fifth after three heats.
 
In the RX Lites Cup, Kevin Eriksson was fastest in heat two as Kevin Hansen spun but it is Olsbergs MSE driver Andreas Wernersson who leads after three heats. Simon Olofsson is second while Kevin Hansen set the third fastest time in heat three to lie third overall.

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DAY TWO…

Sweden’s Mattias Ekstrom has become the fifth different winner in this year’s FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy after clinching the victory at the Volkswagen World RX of Sweden in an exhilarating final race. Timmy Hansen was declared the initial winner but his victory was later revoked after a stewards’ enquiry confirmed the Swede was penalised for pushing in the final.  As a consequence, Hansen was demoted to second while Ford Olsbergs MSE driver Andreas Bakkerud finished third.

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Over 40,000 people attended this year’s Swedish RX round – up from 35,000 in 2014 – where reigning World RX Champion Petter Solberg was top qualifier at the Intermediate Classification. The final didn’t fare so well for Solberg, however, as the Norwegian beached his Citroen DS3 in the gravel on the final lap and broke his steering. Despite the setback, Solberg continues to lead the overall drivers’ standings, 44 points ahead of Johan Kristoffersson.
 
“I’m happy for my guys and for myself, I feel this is a well deserved win,” confirmed Ekstrom, who has won at Holjes for the second year in a row.  “I have no hard feelings towards Timmy, he deserves P2.  He made a brave move passing me on the corner but everybody has to play by the rules of a World Championship.  I did feel like I was robbed of the win so I’m pleased that the stewards made the decision that they did – it sets the level of the bar of how we should race. I’m really pleased with how car the car has performed and of course it’s always amazing to take a win at my home race.”
 
Hansen was understandably disappointed following the stewards’ decision but the Team Peugeot-Hansen driver remained positive. “It was a very close call,” explained the 22 year-old whose team-mate Davy Jeanney finished eighth in the team’s second car.  “I saw a gap on the final corner after the jump, I didn’t hesitate and I just went for it.  I didn’t think I was pushing Mattias, there was some contact side by side but that is rallycross in my opinion.  I still feel like I won in front of my home crowd and I crossed the finish line first which was a dream feeling.”
 
Third-placed Bakkerud claimed his first podium of the year, despite having reached the final of each World RX race so far this season.  “It’s been a while since I’ve finished on the podium so this feels really great,” grinned Bakkerud who had a huge support network in Holjes this weekend with dozens of fans cheering on the popular Norwegian. 

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Bakkerud continued: “This is my third podium in Holjes and it always feels good to finish in the top three in Holjes – especially with so many family and friends who are here with me this weekend.  The car was down on power in the final but my spotter on the radio just told me to keep pushing so that’s what I did! I’m even hungrier for a victory now and that’s what I’ll be aiming for in Canada and in the second half of the year.”

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Fourth place was taken by Marklund Motorsport’s Topi Heikkinen after the Finn drove a mature race to finish just shy of a podium spot.  Latvian Reinis Nitiss rounded off the top five, scoring crucial points for the Ford Olsbergs MSE squad who has now extended its lead at the top of the Teams’ Championship by 17 points over Team Peugeot-Hansen.

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Elsewhere, it was a weekend of mixed fortunes for Team Volkswagen Sweden’s Johan Kristoffersson and Tord Linnerud.  Kristoffersson qualified for the semi-finals but ran wide in the Joker Lap during the first lap, which led to a puncture and denied the Swede a spot in the final. During the same race, Ole Christian Veiby showed good pace in a second VW Sweden run Polo.  The Euro RX front-runner finished the event in ninth position, one spot ahead of Eric Faren who had an impressive outing for the Hansen Development Team.

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Britain’s leading rallycross driver Liam Doran, who partners Solberg in the SDRX team, was placed 11th after heat three but a misfiring engine hindered his progress.

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In the support categories, Latvia’s Janis Baumanis has extended his lead over Hungary’s Krisztian Szabo in the S1600 category after taking the win in Holjes.  Russia’s Nikita Misyulya and Norway’s Magnus Bergsjobrende finished second and third respectively.
 
Speaking about his win, Baumanis stated: “It is the best feeling to win in Holjes – the atmosphere is amazing. Myself and Reinis have had so many Latvian fans come to Holjes to support us both so I’d like to thank every single of them, my family and sponsors – it means so much to me.”
 
Fredrik Salsten took the win in TouringCar and now leads the rear-wheel drive category with just one round remaining. He is 17 points ahead of Sweden’s Magda Andersson who finished third in front of an elated home crowd. Fredrik Magnussen took the runners-up spot.
 
In the supporting RX Lites Cup, it was Thomas Bryntesson who took the victory in only his second outing in the Lites this year. He finished one second ahead of Kevin Hansen, while Kevin Eriksson clinched third. 

The World RX crews will now have a five-week break before the teams prepare to cross the Atlantic for World RX of Canada (7-8 August).

All of the above information was provided by IMG Motorsport and the FIA World Rallycross Championship.

All the best!

Phil!

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