The announcement that 2016 World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekström will front up Abt’s venture into Extreme E is not only a major coup for the all-electric off-road series but a signal of intent for what the series aims to achieve in the long term.
Extreme E has attracted some big names recently, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton’s X44 squad, US titans Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi, plus Formula E champions Techeetah joining as teams.
With Ekström, it is clear that it has a driver who is a serious player in both of the fundamental elements of Extreme E: the off-road nature and electric technology.
Abt and Ekström go back more than two decades, while he’s already been involved in Cupra’s electric touring car push. Yet there’s also an element of this being a new adventure for Ekström, despite doing plenty of off-roading in the past and achieving great successes in the process.
These five “Eki” moments on the loose stuff are a sign he’s got what it takes to make it work in Extreme E.
Rally Sweden 2004
Ekström is best known for his maiden DTM title in 2004, taking Audi Abt Sportsline to the crown in a season-long battle with the Mercedes duo of Christijan Albers and Gary Paffett. But rewind to much earlier in the season and one of his most sensational drives wasn’t in an Audi but a Mitsubishi Lancer E7 on Rally Sweden.
He’d done three Rally Swedens before, his first as a teenager in his Scandinavian Touring Car Championship title season in 1999, but this was his time to burst onto the scene.
After a class podium the year before, Ekström finished an impressive 12th overall and first in the N4 class, beating the likes of Stig-Olov Walfridsson and Stig Blomqvist, plus finishing just three places behind Mikko Hirvonen’s works Subaru Impreza WRC. Nine stage wins out of 19 proved his class.
World RX Sweden 2020
They say that form is temporary, but class is permanent, and this was no better demonstrated than in the second round of this year’s World RX season at Höljes. In an Audi S1 which had faltered somewhat in 2019 and soundly beaten in 2018 by Johan Kristoffersson’s works VW Polo, Ekström returned to face his arch-nemesis once more.
The racecraft, joker strategy and sheer pace of Ekström in the face of Kristoffersson, who is still very much at his peak, was impressive. But Ekström showcased the steely nerve he became known for in touring cars to come out on top in one of the best finals in world championship history.
Rally Sweden 2005
Following on from his class win the previous year, Ekström returned to the snow of his home rally in a Škoda Fabia WRC. Gliding the Red Bull-liveried Fabia between the snowbanks, Ekström was noticeable by the fact that he looked less like a circuit racer and simply a rally driver.
Unsurprisingly he didn’t figure among the podium contenders, given he was driving a car that hadn’t secured silverware in anyone else’s hands. But a pair of sixth-fastest stage times in the third and final leg made it clear that Ekström was getting the hang of WRC machinery.
As an added bonus he usurped WRC stars including François Duval, who ended up having a nightmare 2005 season with Citroën, Subaru’s Chris Atkinson and up-and-coming star Jari-Matti Latvala, all of whom suffered issues.
Nitro Rallycross 2018
Ekström was one of two international wildcards at the inaugural Nitro Rallycross competition at the 2018 Nitro World Games, but unlike the latest and greatest from America or the factory-backed Timmy Hansen, Ekström was running an older-spec car being prepared by customer outfit Comtoyou Racing.
At the start of the final, he capitalized on contact between Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team-mates Tanner Foust and Scott Speed to take an early lead. Hansen charged him down and lapped faster throughout but couldn’t find a way past the Audi driver.
That was until the final lap when Ekström took the joker – the longest of several routes on the Nitro Rallycross course – opening the door to Hansen who eventually won by almost two and a half seconds. Ekström held on for second, but with an up-to-date car, that could very well have been first.
World RX Sweden 2014
Back to Höljes once more and the scene of Ekström’s maiden World RX victory in a crazy final where Sebastian Eriksson was cruelly robbed of the win when his front-left wheel nearly fell off.
While Ekström was largely unspectacular in this race, the prudent strategy proved to be a winning one as he was the only driver not to suffer drama.
Olsbergs MSE’s Andreas Bakkerud finished second but only after suffering a puncture, while Petter Solberg lost time in the joker as well as losing his front bumper.
For Ekström though, the race was a calculated performance, won by a combination of a fast lap after his own joker to usurp Bakkerud and a stroke of good fortune to make the most of Eriksson’s disappointment.