Niclas Grönholm topped qualifying for the fifth round of the World Rallycross Championship in Latvia, narrowly beating championship leader Johan Kristoffersson in a closely-fought morning.
Kristoffersson, who has topped qualifying at all four rounds so far this season, carried on his run of beating the field in Q1.
But in Q2 Grönholm was drawn alongside the double champion, and covered him off at the start and beat him over the course of that four lap race to set up a winner-takes-all showdown in their final heat race.
In that final four-lapper, Grönholm took the advantage, but neither won the race – that honor going to a fast-starting Robin Larsson – or the round, which was won by a rapid Mattias Ekström.
The 2016 champion set the fastest single lap of the day on his opening lap, despite the standing start, and then comfortably set the fastest four-lap cumulative time of 3m22.377s.
He was third overall, with just four points covering the top-three runners. Fourth went the way of Ekström’s JC Raceteknik Audi team-mate Larsson, who’s Q3 win was the second-fastest result of the round.
Timmy Hansen and Kevin Hansen locked out fifth and sixth respectively, ahead of the returning Krisztián Szabó who was second overall in Q2, and enjoyed an intense wheel-to-wheel battle with Kristoffersson at the start of Q3.
Liam Doran was eighth, making the semi-finals for the first time in 2020 after a torrid start to the season so far. Despite trouble-free runs in Q1 and Q3, the Monster Energy RX Cartel driver’s morning wasn’t without drama after he suffered yet another driveshaft failure while taking the Joker in Q2.
Doran finished ahead of team-mate Andreas Bakkerud and Timur Timerzyanov, who advances to the semifinals despite a suspension failure in Q3.
Local driver Reinis Nitišs, making his first World RX start of the year in the ESmotorsport Škoda Fabia RX, took 11th, with René Münnich scooping the final transfer spot.
Münnich’s advancement came at the expense of team-mate Timo Scheider, who despite a strong run to seventh overall in Q2, was hampered by a retirement in Q1 caused by an electrical issue.
Anton Marklund finished behind Scheider in 14th, meaning that both will miss out on a semifinal spot for the first time this season.
Guerlain Chicherit, Rokas Baciuška, and Jani Paasonen – whose day ended spectacularly with an engine failure in Q2 – also failed to advance.
In European Rallycross, Sondre Evjen holds the advantage after two of four qualifying rounds. The Volkswagen driver topped Q1, then was second fastest overall in Q2.
Evjen heads Jean-Baptiste Dubourg, who topped Q2, and Ben-Philip Gundersen, while Andréa Dubourg and Oliver Eriksson round out the top-five.
Eriksson, who goes into this weekend as the championship leader after winning the season opener at Höljes, suffered suspension failure in his Q1 heat after contact with Andréa Dubourg on the opening lap. Despite the contact, which resulted in a spin, he was able to finish the race second on the road and the round eighth overall. He then took seventh overall in Q2.
Projekt E is also back this weekend for its second round. Hometown hero Jānis Baumanis topped the opening qualifying session for the all-electric series, fending off multiple Lites champion Cyril Raymond who is giving the R5-based Citroën C3 ERX its debut this weekend.
Natalie Barratt, the only returning driver from Höljes, took third after a race-long fight with Svein Bjarte Holten, the Brit emerging from her last-lap joker in the stronger position.