Barcelona WRX: Heikkinen leads after opening day
Multi-discipline expert Johan Kristoffersson starred on the opening day of the World Rallycross Championship in Barcelona, but it was EKS driver Toomas Heikkinen who topped the order at the end of day one.
Kristoffersson set fastest time in both free practice and Q1 in the new Volkswagen Motorsport-built Polo, but mixed conditions through the day turned into heavy rain before the final race of Q2, leaving some of the best drivers in the field struggling for traction.
Despite only setting 17th fastest time in Q2, Kristoffersson remains third overall, behind Heikkinen and DTM convert Timo Scheider.
Running in some of the most slippery conditions on a drying track in Q1, Heikkinen was 14th overall in the reigning teams' championship-winning EKS Audi, but led Scheider on-track throughout Q2 to set the fastest time in the third race.
Nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb won the penultimate race of the day, but with rain falling harder the Frenchman was over 11.8 seconds slower than Heikkinen’s best time.
In the final race of the session, the rain was at its hardest. Each of the five cars ran on wet tyres, but Kristoffersson made a slow start from pole position.
From the outside of the grid, Andreas Bakkerud moved around the outside of the field through turn one but ran wide and hit the tyre wall. He was collected by Hoonigan team mate Ken Block and retired from the race two corners later.
Double-champion Solberg took the lead into the second corner, ahead of reigning title-holder Mattias Ekstrom, as behind Block recovered to pass Kristoffersson out of the hairpin for the first time of asking.
The proceeding three and a half laps were a masterclass in car-control, as Solberg, Ekstrom, Block and Kristoffersson slid their way around the Formula 1 venue’s rallycross circuit.
Ekstrom passed Solberg on the second lap before the jump when the Norwegian ran wide, the latter then becoming involved in a battle with Block which ultimately just slowed the pair futher.
Ekstrom won the race, but was 37.311 seconds slower than his team mate (Heikkinen) in 15th. Solberg was another 10 seconds further down.
In the overall standings, Ekstrom and Solberg lie just inside the semi-final qualifying positions in 11th and 12th.
At the circuit at which he claimed the FIA European Rallycross Championship last season, Kevin Hansen had two off-colour races by his own high standards, including running wide on the exit of the first corner in Q1.
But, thanks to running in the best of the track conditions in both sessions, the Swede is fourth overall ahead of his brother Timmy Hansen, the older of the pair driving the latest specification Peugeot 208 WRX.
In an ex-Peugeot-Hansen 208, Jean-Baptiste Dubourg has two solid races and is sixth at the end of day one.
Ekstrom: WRX pecking order to remain unclear until after Round 3
Barcelona WRX: Scheider tops qualifying, Loeb out of contention