Portugal WRX: Ekstrom maintains advantage ahead of finals
Mattias Ekstrom continued his form from the opening day of the first World Rallycross Championship event of the season in Portugal to go fastest in both morning warm-up and Q4.
The Swede topped the Intermediate Classification ahead of the semi-finals and thereby claimed 16 championship points already.
The rain that dominated day one gave way to bright sunshine ahead of Q3 on Sunday, the track drying throughout the morning.
Ekstrom was fourth quickest in Q3, beaten in the last race of the session by a flying Andreas Bakkerud, while reigning champion Petter Solberg led his race throughout, following a host of overnight setup changes to his Citroen DS3 Supercar, and set the fastest time.
Solberg is second in the Intermediate standings and will start on pole position in semi-final two, with Johan Kristoffersson and Andreas Bakkerud third and fourth overall after the qualifying races.
Privateer racer Robin Larsson made the best start in the penultimate race of Q4 and headed directly into the first corner joker lap, while Solberg took the normal route.
Larsson climbed to second by the end of the race and is fifth overall, ahead of Toomas Heikkinen, the Finn passed by Sebastien Loeb on the final lap of the penultimate qualification race.
Loeb made a good start, and as the four other cars took the joker, the Frenchman attempted to take the main circuit, only to outbrake himself for the second time of the weekend at turn one, forcing him to abort his original plan and head into the joker section.
But being ninth-fastest in Q4 secures the Frenchman seventh overall on his debut before the semi-finals.
Reigning Swedish Rallycross Champion Kevin Eriksson makes his first full-time start for the OlsbergsMSE team at World Championship level this weekend and consistent times through the qualifying stages puts him eighth overall, ahead of Timmy Hansen and Davy Jeanney.
Hansen originally set the fastest time of Q4 in the penultimate race of the session, only for Ekstrom to blitz that time by almost five seconds to go fastest.
Hansen’s younger brother Kevin, teammate to Jeanney in the Peugeot Hansen Academy squad is the first driver to miss a place in the semi-finals in 13th.
Brit Liam Doran and Swede Anton Marklund just made the cut in 11th and 12th, Doran winning a close encounter with Heikkinen in Q4 despite only running a 1.6-litre engine in the Mini RX Supercar.
Loeb: "More to come" from Peugeot in Portugal
Portugal WRX: Solberg wins, Loeb fifth on debut