WRX – Farewell Lydden – Part Two

Of course, being the Sunday of World Rallycross the crowds flocked and the queue on the A2 backed up. We managed to slot into the queue and from the dual carriageway I could see that the cars were being directed into the top field above the circuit, adjacent to a field which the previous day had been clear. We negotiated our way into Lydden Hill and made our way down the dusty track to hopefully where we parked the before, in the VIP and media car park behind the grandstand, but our hopes faded as the security guard on the point directed us to…yes you guessed it, the top field adjacent to the field which I had seen on the way in. It was going to be a longer trek down to the circuit, but the sun was out and the cars were revving. It was a perfect day.

Our first stop-off point was the garage of Oliver Bennett. He was guesting in the WRX for this round. His Ford Fiesta was parked under an Xite Energy drinks marquee, his major sponsor and there were plastic shot containers on a desk with a variety of different flavours to try, of course it would be rude not to take full advantage of the complimentary offers so I did. He was being spoken to by Liam Doran who was in Bennett’s garage this weekend and they were discussing tactics and how the next two qualifying heats should be approached. Bennett took on board what Doran had to say and then donned his racing helmet to jump into the car whilst Liam Doran picked up the radio headset and headed off towards his spotting position.

Time was ticking down and I could hear the cars making their way through the paddock into the pre-grid area situated in front of the Monster Energy tower. We wandered in that general direction and I sauntered by the Team Peugeot garage and spotted the Frenchman who I spoke to the previous day who sponsored the team. He walked over to me and we started chatting and he asked if I was still interested in speaking with the drivers, which of course I said yes. He grabbed the team PR lady and we arranged that I would visit the hospitality area at around 4.30pm. First job of the day complete.

It was time for Q3

Petter Solberg would go top again in a weekend he was beginning to thoroughly dominate. He was over one and a half seconds in front of his team mate, Kristoffersson and over three seconds ahead of Ekstrom. All three drivers maintained their position from Q2

Solberg led the race and took his joker on lap three, re-taking the lead when Kristoffersson took his joker on lap four.

Behind the top three, Norway’s Andreas Bakkerud and Sweden’s Timmy Hansen battled over fourth place in the race and were fifth and seventh in Q3, Hansen’s Team Peugeot-Hansen team mate Sebastien Loeb was fourth and America’s Ken Block sixth, the two drivers continuing their battle from Saturday at Lydden Hill.

Like he was in Q1, Finland’s Topi Heikkinen was eighth fastest in Q3 to return to the top twelve after he was slowed with an engine problem in Q2. Sweden’s Kevin Eriksson also won his race in Q3 and was ninth fastest, with Heikkinen’s EKS team mate Reinis Nitiss 10th. Finland’s Niclas Gronholm was also inside the top 12 along with Sweden’s Kevin Hansen. Great Britain’s Andrew Jordan wass currently in the semi-final places for the MJP Racing Team Austria team, in 11th, despite being slowed with technical problems at the end of his race in Q3.

The postitions looked like this, with qualifying points:

1st – Petter Solberg – 150pts

2nd – Johan Kristoffersson – 135pts

3rd – Mattias Ekstrom – 126pts

4th – Andreas Bakkerud – 119pts

5th – Sebastien Loeb – 115pts

6th – Timmy Hansen – 115pts

7th – Ken Block – 113pts

8th – Kevin Eriksson – 101pts

9th – Timur Timerzyanov – 98pts

10th – Janis Baumanis – 97pts

11th – Andrew Jordan – 95pts

12th – Toomas Heikkinen – 94pts

——————————————

13th – Guy Wilks – 89pts

14th – Jean-Baptiste Dubourg – 86pts

15th – Niclas Gronholm – 85pts

16th – Rene Muennich – 84pts

17th – Kevin Hansen – 83pts

18th – Oliver O’Donovan – 80pts

19th – Gregoire Demoutier – 76pts

20th – Reinis Nitiss – 74pts

21st – CSUCSU – 73pts

22nd – Martin Kaczmarski – 73pts

23rd – Oliver Bennett – 68pts

24th – M.D.K. – 67pts

Q4 was going to be so important and with some very talented drivers outside the top twelve it would take some big efforts for a place in the semi-final heats. From Timerzyanov to Heikkinen, those drivers would be looking over their shoulders for those contenders chasing a place. All drivers down to 16th place would gain championship points during the qualifying heats so there were further battles down the order to be completed.

Sweden’s Timmy Hansen set the fastest time in Q4 at the World RX of Great Britain to end Norway’s Petter Solberg’s runs of fastest times.

Hansen took the joker lap early in his race and won on track to be fastest, as in the last race of the Q3 session Johan Kristoffersson beat his team mate Solberg for the first time of the weekend, Kristoffersson second behind Hansen in Q4 with Solberg in third. Solberg was top qualifier at the Intermediate Classification and as a result would start on pole position for semi-final one, while Kristoffersson would start on pole position in semi-final two.

Hansen’s Q4 time means he moved to third in the Intermediate Classification and would join Solberg on the front row for semi-final one, Kristoffersson joined by his countryman Mattias Ekstrom on the first row for semi-final two. Ekstrom who was eighth fastest in Q4 after a battle with Sebastien Loeb, the nine-time World Rally Champion would start on the second row of the same semi-final race, next to MJP Racing Team Austria’s Kevin Eriksson and in front of Latvia’s Janis Baumanis and Finland’s Topi Heikkinen.

Hoonigan Racing Division team mates Andreas Bakkerud and Ken Block were fourth and fifth in Q4 and would start together on row two of semi-final one, with Andrew Jordan and Timur Timerzyanov also making it into the top 12 to join the semi-final one grid on the third row. Reigning FIA European Rallycross Champion Kevin Hansen, who was celebrating his 19th birthday at Lydden Hill, was ninth fastest in Q4 but just missed out on a place in the semi-finals due to technical problems he encountered the previous day.

The semi-final line-ups would look like this:

SEMI-FINAL 1

ROW 1

Petter Solberg – VW Polo GTI

Timmy Hansen – Peugeot 208

ROW 2

Andreas Bakkerud – Ford Focus RS

Ken Block – Ford Focus RS

ROW 3

Janis Baumanis – Ford Fiesta

Timur Timerzyanov – Ford Fiesta

SEMI-FINAL 2

ROW 1

Johan Kristoffersson – VW Polo GTI

Mattias Ekstrom – Audi S1

ROW 2

Sebastien Loeb – Peugeot 208

Andrew Jordan – Ford Fiesta

ROW 3

Kevin Eriksson – Ford Fiesta

Toomas Heikkinen – Audi S1

We had watched Q3 at the back end of the circuit opposite Chessons Drift. We looked down at the entrance to the joker with the packed car park in our view on the opposite side of the circuit. The bank rises up and to the right the trees block the view of the start/finish line, but my can you hear the engines as they rev up. It’s a weird mix of acoustics as the sound of the revving cuts out and there is this low grumble which grows louder and louder until eventually the cars pop into view. Remember, these beasts can accelerate off the start line quicker than a Formula One car, so by the time they reach the entrance into the drift or the joker, whichever a driver decides, those cars are going at a rate of knots. They burst into view with the sound of screeching tyres, the smell of burning rubber being pushed up your nostrils and the dust from the drift billows up into the air and as the wind catches it the cloud switches direction and hits you in the face. It is a most incredible experience.

Q4 we watched from the banking directly in front of the Monster Energy tower, the view is good. You can see all of the circuit from this vantage point if you are standing high enough up the banking. It was from here that we decided to walk back through the paddock after the Q4 excitement to grab some lunch back at the car and to see what faces I could bump into.

I had a Pit Crew Staff t-shirt which was tucked in my waistband and I had decided I was going to get some drivers to sign it, for prosperities sake. The first person I managed to grab on the way back to lunch was Janis Baumanis. There was a little translation problem at first as he took my marker pen, I thought he was saying “write”, which I thought was odd as I wanted him to write it, but turns out he meant “tight”, so Viv pointed out to me that he wanted me to pull the t-shirt tighter. That little obstacle conquered and signature number one out the way.

Sebastien Loeb walked out the Peugeot garage, he was in jovial mood and was smiling for photographs. I asked him how preparations were going for the semi-final and he winked, giving me a thumbs up. I took that as things were going pretty well.

Managed to get Andrew Jordan to sign the Pit Crew t-shirt and we decided to head back to the car for lunch.

The cars were lining up in the pre-grid for the semi-final heats, there was a World War Two fly-by and the national anthem. I had arranged to meet Neil Cole, the WRX television reporter, and I could see him interviewing Petter Solberg and feverishly walking around the paddock so I walked round, leaving Viv on the public side and entered the pre-grid area. I wandered over to the race office and leant over the wooden fencing and called Neil’s name, he was leaning against the wall. He smiled and shook my hand and I could tell he was busy so I let him get on.

I walked down into the pre-grid area where the cars were assembled, mechanics performing their final checks, media personnel buzzing around and VIP guests standing to one side and watching. I had the crew from Hoonigan Racing Division standing next to me, a mixture of nationalities but I managed to make out a few Americans and British accents. They were discussing the upcoming semi-final and judging by the conversation there was a lot of confidence about Bakkerud making it through.

The Frenchman I met yesterday was standing above me on the gantry and he smiled. “Four-thirty!” he shouted down, giving me the thumbs up. I returned the greeting and said that I would be there.

The cars for semi-final one were being moved out onto the grid, I was standing just inches away and it wasn’t just the noise but the heat coming from the cars was unbelievable. Neil Cole ran back through, he intimated to me by touching his ear-piece that the live show was on so now wasn’t a good time to talk. I understood.

The Hoonigan mechanics were right with their feelings as Andreas Bakkerud qualified in 2nd place just under a second behind Petter Solberg, with Timmy Hansen bringing his Peugeot through in 4th. The second semi-final would see Solberg’s team mate Kristoffersson win convincingly over Loeb and Ekstrom, who was having by his standards a particularly quiet weekend, in 3rd. The final was set. I also managed to get a photograph with Kevin Eriksson.

ROW 1

Petter Solberg

Johan Kristoffersson

ROW 2

Andreas Bakkerud

Sebastien Loeb

ROW 3

Timmy Hansen

Mattias Ekstrom

During the final I stood underneath the Cooper Tire inflatable with Kevin Eriksson next to me. We greeted each other and as the final got under way he commented how Petter got an electric start.

The final was underway.

Petter Solberg took an emphatic win with Johan Kristoffersson making it a one-two for PSRX Volkswagen Sweden, while Hoonigan Racing Division’s Andreas Bakkerud took the third podium spot in his Ford Focus RS RX Supercar.

Kristoffersson’s runner-up position this weekend catapulted the Swede to the top of the drivers’ standings – four points ahead of Mattias Ekstrom who finished fourth in his Audi S1 EKS RX Quattro. Ekstrom, who suffered a puncture in today’s final, had the fastest reaction off the start awarding the reigning World RX Champion with the coveted Monster Energy Super Charge Award. In the overall teams’ standings, PSRX Volkswagen Sweden continue to dominate – 69 points ahead of Team Peugeot-Hansen who remain second.

“This is the victory I needed,” beamed Solberg, who took his first win since Portugal 2016. “The team have been flat out over the last couple of months – the car is good but it’s the little details that the team have been working on that has given us the consistency we need. It’s been good team-work with Johan too – we give and take a little bit from each other and it’s been working very well. Now I’m looking forward to my home event in Norway – we have done some testing there and know the track well so this will help. It’s a very special place for us – we are a small country but with over 25,000 fans attending Hell RX the atmosphere is always fantastic. I have competed in motorsport for many years and things can happen very quickly – we must remain consistent and stay smart. Regarding Lydden Hill, I have to say thank you – the atmosphere is always amazing and the volunteers have been great.”

New Championship leader Kristoffersson commended Solberg on his Lydden Hill victory. “Congratulations to Petter, he has been brilliant all weekend,” explained the 28-year-old Swede. “He has had the upper hand since the draw and managed his tyres very well. It’s all about the points now, I am now leading the Championship and the Teams’ Championship is looking very good too. My launches are now feeling better and the reaction times are getting faster every time – it’s been a good team effort. I’m really pleased with the weekend and this is the fourth Volkswagen podium in a row. Now I’m leading the Championship for the first time on my own and it’s a great feeling – I will definitely be fighting hard to keep it that way!”

Third-placed Andreas Bakkerud added: “Huge congratulations to Petter and Johan – both have been quick from practice onwards and for me, this weekend was about being the best of the rest. The whole team did a fantastic job – we tried our hardest but it was not quite fast enough. It’s just a small window of time before Hell, we have some developments to try so I must push that weekend and I hope that we can get back to the top.”

Rounding out the top five this weekend was Frenchman Sebastien Loeb – the Team Peugeot-Hansen driver fighting hard with Ekstrom for the majority of today’s final. Timmy Hansen was sixth overall, the Swede slowed after spinning his Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar on North Bend and later losing time with a left-rear puncture.

I headed to the media centre where I caught up with Petter Solberg for a one-on-one interview. He remembered me from our interview on top of the Monster Energy stage last year and smiled whilst shaking my hand, which I thought was a really nice gesture.

“I know you like it at Lydden. Last race here, what did that mean to you?” I asked.

“For sure it means a lot, it’s sad that we are going.” Petter replied.

“I was looking at the times of the session across the weekend and at times you were one to two seconds above everyone else. What made that difference?” I asked.

“The driver.”

We both laughed, what a great response. Petter shook my hand and thanked me for the questions, he wished me well and said “See you again,” before wandering off to the stage to be interviewed for the television with Kristoffersson and Bakkerud.

I listened in to the press conference surrounded by all the other media outlets, journalists jostling for places to get the best audio recordings.

I headed away from the media centre after the drivers had spoken to meet up with Viv who was taking in the sights of the circuit being cleared up and we headed off to the Team Peugeot garage. The PR lady took myself and Viv through to the hospitality suite and she informed us the drivers were having their debrief and she wasn’t sure how long they were going to be.

I sat down and readied my questions and we waited as the Peugeot staff cleared away the equipment and other media representatives waited patiently. Time moved by and it appeared the drivers were busier than had been expected. The PR lady walked in and said she wasn’t sure how long they were going to be as there had been a lot to discuss. Not knowing how long it was going to take, we had been waiting for about half an hour and also not wanting to look like a pest I said that I understood they were very busy and that maybe we could arrange an interview with all three drivers another time. She agreed to this and seemed a bit relieved I wasn’t being pushy about the interview which had been arranged.

I have this outlook on interviews that if I came across as a pushy and impatient writer then any future articles would be lost because people remember. I use Petter Solberg as an example, he remembered how I spoke to him the previous year at Lydden and although he was due to get to the stage for TV, he took the time to come and talk to me, because he remembered. I hope the same applies to the Team Peugeot representatives.

If you have read my Adventures From Lydden article last year and this two part live special, you won’t need to be told how much of a fantastic time I have at World Rallycross events. This weekend in particular was just an amazing adventure. I got to meet some great people, spoke informally with drivers in a relaxed atmosphere and had an extreme amount of fun. This was Viv’s first visit to a World Rallycross event and she also enjoyed the whole race weekend experience. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if you have never been to a WRX event, then I highly recommend you put this on your to-do list.

Thank you World Rallycross. Thank you Lydden Hill.

Here are your championship standings:

See you at the chequered flag.

Neil Simmons and Viv Gillings

Twitter: @world_racing

Photographs © – Viv Gillings

Twitter: @viv_simmons

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