You can’t keep a champion from the podium for long; that’s for sure. Hungry for success after narrowly missing out on the silverware last weekend, Petter Solberg cut through the carnage in Mettet to take a his second podium of the year with a solid third place. The result at round three of the FIA World Rallycross championship, hosted in Belgium, means Petter bags another 25 points towards his World RX championship defense campaign.
Throughout the weekend, Petter consistently turned up the pace, and the heat, on his rivals, scoring a third and fourth during day one qualifying and then a first and second place in Q’s 3 & 4 on day two. Come the finals, Petter turned up the pace again, winning semi final two, and then lining up on the front row for the main final. Although he has to temporarily conceded the championship points lead to rival and eventual #BelgiumRX winner Mattias Ekström, he is now primed for an epic fight back at the World RX event in the UK at the end of the month.
It was a case of seriously tough times for fellow Monster Energy athletes Andreas Bakkerud, Ken Block and Liam Doran in Mettet though. After the dizzying highs of Hockenheim, the Hoonigan Racing Division duo and JRM Racing driver finished 14th, 19th and 17th respectively by the final flag on Sunday. While Andreas was able to salvage three championship points from the event, the Belgium weekender is certainly one to chalk up to experience and development for all three athletes.
The third round of the World RX series also hosted the season opening race of the 2016 FIA European Rallycross Championship. Riku Tahko and Krzysztof Hołowczyc were front and center in the action, with Hołek now making his long awaited graduation to the supercar class. The former Dakar Rally driver proved every bit the match in the supercar field, with some awesome on track performances, qualifying through to semi finals and placing 11th in the overall standings.
Things didn’t quite go to plan for Riku Tahko however, despite showing hugely improved pace in comparison to his 2015 form. Technical issues including a broken drive shaft and a cracked gearbox case cruelly eliminated from the cut for the finals, and forced him down to 20th.
After a hectic back-to-back schedule of racing in Europe, the crews and drivers of World RX have a brief chance to catch their breath before racing back into action at the World RX of Great Britain on the 28th and 29th of May. Fans of the European championship will have to wait just a little bit longer, with the flag dropping on round two in Norway on the 11th & 12th June.
Petter Solberg – 3rd:
“It has been a big challenge this weekend and it was great to finish it with such a good fight in the final, a podium and another 25 points in the championship. The racing at these events is absolutely crazy, even standing on the start line before the race I still get a little nervous – compared to a 60km rally stage, which is absolutely no problem! I get a total I got a strong start, and actually I could have gone around the outside, but I figured it was more important to hold the racing line and have track position on the inside at turn one. Loeb came up into second, which I expected him to do, and then I lost about two seconds trying to avoid Marklund when he spun. The rest of the time I was just flat out for the whole final. I was catching by the end Loeb, which is why we left the Joker to the last lap. I pushed as hard as I could, but overheated the rear tyres. I am very very happy to get the podium this weekend. Congratulations to Mattias, he was the fastest, but the plan for us is to be even faster when we come to Lydden Hill in the UK. I have some developments coming on the car, so they need to watch out!”
Ken Block – 19th:
“Belgium has been a challenging weekend, and despite the results I have enjoyed it. I knew heading into today, that we just had to maximize the track time and really use it as a development day. After the kill switch issues that we experienced on day one, as well as the further DNF in Q2, I knew that my chances were pretty slim of getting anywhere near the semi final. We’ve actually learnt a lot about the car this weekend, in terms of jumping it seriously and finding a good setup that deals with the high compression loads as well as still staying stable at speed. As I have said before it’s all part of a longer term programme – with my team and Ford Performance - it took guys like Petter and Ekström more than a few races to put together a winning package, so we are pretty happy with the progress we have made. I’m looking forward to racing in the UK. Lydden Hill shares some similarities between Portugal and Hockenheim, so we will have a good baseline to work from there.”
Liam Doran - 17th:
“It’s tough when you set the bar so high like we did in Hockenheim and then experience a weekend like we did here in Belgium. Through a combination of little mistakes, bad luck and technical issues we haven’t come away with a result. That’s not to say we haven’t learnt anything. I’m obviously disappointed, as I was hoping to come away with championship points, but you just have to move on and focus on the next race; and not be too downhearted about it. We will bounce back at Lydden, it’s my home event and racing with a British team at home in the UK will be a big boost!”
Andreas Bakkerud – 14th:
“The whole weekend in Belgium has felt like two steps forward and one step back in a way. We’ve had two awesome events with the new car. Every time we have been out it has been a case of gathering as much data as possible for future events. This is the first time the Focus RS RX has been hitting big jumps and then racing straight onto hard kerbs. Trying to find a balance that deals with the heavy compression loads and isn’t too soft in the corners is tricky, but I think we are getting there. It was great to have better lap-times at the end of today (in Q4) – we were top three in the final qualification race. The team have been working really hard, and it’s just a shame not to be in semis. I’m looking forward to the next event in the UK now. I’ve always gone well at Lydden so I’m expecting a positive weekend for sure!”
EuroRX - Riku Tahko – Euro RX – 20th:
“A season opening round can always be a challenge. We faced new issues with the increased power from the car. Now we have great launches off the line, and a huge increase in traction, but that has brought with it a new set of issues on the technical side. We took a hit from another car yesterday – which caused us a power steering issue. We suspect that this could have been the cause of the drive shaft failure too. The team were working until 5am overnight to get the car fixed for today, so it’s been a huge effort overall. We have three weeks until the next event now, so we have time to analyse what happened here in Belgium and come back even stronger. We have the pace and just need to refine the reliability of the car. It’s going to be an exciting year.”
Krzysztof Hołowczyc – 11th:
"It’s been a very exciting first race in Supercars for me. The team has done a great job, and I’ve enjoyed the weekend a lot. The goal was to get into the semi finals, which is what we achieved. Of course we would have liked to fight for a podium in the main final, but we had a great battle in the semis and only missed out by one position. I tried to apply what I learnt in RX Lites by keeping my lines as clean and tidy as possible and just use the power of the Supercar on the straights. Norway will be very exciting, I can’t wait to get out there and race again!”