Mattias Ekström claimed his second win of the World Rallycross season in Riga, beating title rival Johan Kristoffersson in a closely-fought final.
As was the case with Kristoffersson’s dominant round five victory on Saturday, tires played a key role, with Ekström playing the long game throughout the day to make up for a poor qualifying draw.
The 2016 champion topped qualifying however, winning two rounds out of three sessions, and won the first semifinal – the second going to Kristoffersson.
Ekström started the final on fresh rubber, having skipped morning warm-up to give himself a tire advantage later in the day, and led Kristoffersson from pole into the first corner.
Both drivers rubbed going into that first corner, but it was Ekström with the clear advantage on corner exit. His JC Raceteknik team-mate Robin Larsson looked up the inside of Kristoffersson but had to settle for third.
With Ekström holding off Kristoffersson at the front, Larsson faced pressure from Niclas Grönholm for the final podium spot, and took the joker mid-way through the six-lap final to cover off the charging Hyundai driver.
Grönholm meanwhile waited for the final lap to joker, a call that would prove crucial to the overall result of the race.
Kristoffersson took the longer route on the penultimate lap in a bid to leapfrog Ekström who waited until the last lap. The Volkswagen driver held enough of an advantage over Grönholm to emerge from the joker ahead of him, but a battle between the pair cost Kristoffersson vital time, allowing Ekström to have an unchallenged final lap.
Larsson overhauled Grönholm on the final lap to give JC Raceteknik its first double podium of the year while Timmy Hansen had an uneventful run to fourth ahead of Grönholm.
Kevin Hansen completed the final field in sixth. The one-time event winner was a late addition to the grid, having missed out on a transfer spot in the second semifinal.
He took the place of Timo Scheider who was disqualified for his involvement in a collision with Andreas Bakkerud who consequently crashed hard at Turn 4 and needed to go to the circuit’s medical center for a check-up.
Anton Marklund and Liam Doran were the other casualties from that second semifinal, while Timur Timerzyanov and Krisztián Szabó both failed to advance from the first.
Ekström’s win means that he has closed the gap to Kristoffersson in the drivers’ standings to 17 points with four rounds remaining. But Ekström’s participation in the remainder of the year remains subject to confirmation.
JC Raceteknik remains atop of the Teams’ standings, holding a 43-point lead over Team Hansen, with GRX sitting third, a further 31 points back.
Oliver Eriksson continued his Sunday resurgence to win the second round of the European Rallycross championship ahead of Sondre Evjen and Jean-Baptiste Dubourg.
The Supercar points leader didn’t have it easy during qualifying on Saturday, but rallied back with a brace of quali wins and a semifinal win on Sunday on his way to the main event.
Eriksson made a clear getaway in the final to lead semifinal 1 winner Evjen into the first corner. Evjen had to fend off J-B Dubourg who made contact and was shuffled back as a result.
Eriksson and Evjen were formation flying at the front of much of the first two laps, until Evjen pitched his Volkswagen Polo up onto two wheels. Miraculously he prevented the car from rolling, but it did allow Gundersen to close up and gave Eriksson a comfortable gap at the front.
Eriksson was untroubled for the remainder of the race, winning by just under half a second after leaving it late to take the joker.
Evjen maintained second, while Gundersen lost out on a maiden Euro RX podium after spinning at turn eight on the fourth lap. His stranded Audi S1 was collected by the remainder of the field, who had to force their way past the stricken car. Both J-B and Andrea Dubourg found a way past, while Tamás Kárai lost out massively once Gundersen got going.
That gave third to J-B Dubourg, ahead of brother Andrea, while Gundersen took fifth with Kárai a distant sixth.
With two wins from two so far this season, Eriksson holds an 11-point advantage over J-B Dubourg going into the final round of the European Supercar season at Spa-Francorchamps, and is on course to emulate Robin Larsson by winning both the Nordic and European Supercar titles in the same year.
Projekt E went the way of Cyril Raymond and the brand new Citroën C3 ERX. The multiple Lites champion topped qualifying with three round wins from four, then bested Ford Fiesta ERX2 driver Jānis Baumanis in the final, beating him off the start then extended the gap over the course of the four-lap race.
Natalie Barratt missed out on her second-straight podium in the category after jumping the start and taking two joker laps as a result. She was able to close up to third-placed Svein Bjarte Holten by the final but couldn’t find a way past in the final few corners.
Barratt comes away from Riga with the series points lead, 11 ahead of Höljes winner Ken Block who didn’t compete this weekend.