In 2014 we won the first ever FIA World Rallycross Championship by 46 points. In 2015 the gap to our nearest rival was reduced to 26. This year, the title race is set to be much closer; thanks to the duel Solberg vs Ekström.
It was great to become World Champion again in 2014 after eleven years without the taste of gold. I was also very excited about winning a third career World title last year. Yet I sit here with a feeling that the 2016 title is the one to really reach out for. If Ekström, Solberg, Kristoffersson, Loeb or someone else manages to pull it off, remains to be seen.
One thing is certain: It will be a closer and more difficult fight than ever before!
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Mattias Ekström leads the FIA World RX Championship before the party goes on to Sweden. The Swede has a five point advantage on me after five (out of 12) rounds. Everyone else is 40 points or more behind. There is a reason for that …
Ekström and I are rivals, but we also have a mutual respect for each other. The same applies to our teams. We have great respect for how they work and vice versa. Why? Because we do a lot of very similar things to reach success. We always turn up maximum prepared for a season and a race, we have a clear strategy and follow it, we respect each other and everyone else, both on and off the track. We analyze situations before and after the races, develop our cars and equipment constantly and we refuse to be satisfied with what we have.
Never being satisfied is both a pleasure and a curse. This leads to an excessive amount of work for the team, but it also gains results – and results are what both Mattias, I and our teams live by and for.
To be completely honest; I love this duel! The 2016 FIA World RX Championship has a high standing because there are multiple drivers as genuinely fighting for the title. In the fight against Ekström and co. there is no room for error, and every day one have to look for improvements of both car and driver characteristics.
Here’s a particularly interesting observation from Lydden Hill two races ago: Five times the track records (4 and 6 rounds) were crushed on the legendary track. The last two years the qualifying times (4 laps) has been smashed with 6.7 seconds, and the finals 9 seconds.
No, everything wasn’t better before …
My prediction is that the battle between Ekström and me will continue at the highest level and last until the end – and others can still come back. The season is only less than half way of its way in.
Argentina 27-28 November will be the decisive race! Although Mattias says he needs to do the DTM in October, when the race at Hockenheim collides with rallycross on Estering in Germany. I tried to squeeze him a bit at Lydden Hill last week, but couldn’t make him answer clearly about it.
I think I will be right when I already state that we are going to see Mattias Ekström in his white Audi S1 also at Estering 15-16 October…
Petter Solberg World RX Team is not quite like any other team. I’m incredibly proud of what we achieve together with our sponsors and WITHOUT a single part or support from the car brand that we run. In 29 FIA World RX Championship races we have nine wins and a total of 21 positions on the podium.
You can see them in the background on TV, out of focus on still images/photographs captured in the service area or on the grid; Find Their feet sticking out underneath the car, their heads down in the engine compartment down, under the bonnet, behind computers or, over the pots and pans in the kitchen. Without my team there I would never have been a double FIA World RX champion. Here is my tribute to my best friends, helpers and family: the PSRX team!
I have been in countless discussions about the importance of a good team and whether rallycross – (and motorsports in general –) should be referred to as a team sport. My contention is clear, I firmly believe the answer to this is YES! For me, to even think about competing at all in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, I must have a team around me. How good the team is, determines how well I will achieve.
My team is hand-picked. I’ve put together a group of people who want exactly the same as me. They want to win as much as I do, and they will do whatever it takes, no matter how “impossible” it may seem at times.
There are people with wives, husbands, children, family and friends at home, who are also an important part of our team. And that we try our best to take care of. Life in World RX is tough, and we are often out travelling for a long time. It’s a comfort for all of us knowing that those who are at home, support us fully in our determination and quest to fulfill goals and dreams.
The 2016 pre-season and the season-opener in Portugal is the best example of how PSRX thinks and performs as a team. Having rebuilt large parts of last year’s “Golden Car”, we were put under huge pressure to get it 100 percent competitive and ready for the first race.
We did the first proper test just five weeks before the season began. In Lohéac, France, we found partially good conditions to get a good first impression of the changes we had made with the car during winter. Then we left behind all equipment in France and returned home to work on parts and details during Easter week. Then we met again on our second test in Estering, Germany, and from there we went for a final session in Lousada, Portugal.
Let’s just briefly recapture our struggles that led to race success: Almost all the other World RX teams also came to Lousada, did some test runs and disappeared again. PSRX were among one of the first of the teams to arrive and also were one of the last to leave as well.
Late in on the evening before scrutieneering, the team and I felt that we had a competitive car. Only then did we decided to enter the World Championship circuit in Montalégre a couple of hours away.
We spend a lot of human resources in our preparations. But my team’s philosophy is that it would have been pointless for us to emerge start in Montalégre without being fully prepared. In the final three weeks before the race, a base of 10 technicians, mechanics, helpers, team members and I worked around the clock under a small roof as the only protection against rain, snow and hail in Lousada. We worked to make the car more than right. We worked to make it perfect.
An estimated 70 percent of the car has been changed from the previous season. The most important changes are related to geometry and weight distribution. Our competitors in several factory teams are also working around the clock with development. We can easily see that with Peugeot, Hoonigan, EKS and Volkswagen Sweden who have more resources than we do.
But in my opinion we have more passion. And you can’t beat passion!
After the victory in Portugal I have been thinking a lot about our journey so far. We have faced many challenges, but all of my team members stand together through thick and thin. Unity is the most important attribute a team can possess. We did not count on victory in the first race of the season. We do not believe the season will be easy – but what we now know from the race in Portugal, should reflect the 2016 season for us:
1) When we are struggling and we have been beaten (like on Saturday), we must still keep faith and believe in the plan and our strategy. In order to achieve success in a World RX race and to win the final, the most important job is to get stay safe through the four qualifiers and then the semi-final.
2) It’s better to be safe than sorry. What you don’t get to do today, you can only regret tomorrow!
A huge thank you to my team for the enormous work you performed in the pre-season and during the race. I received the first prize on behalf of all of you!
Turning two into three and three into four, that’s the job I will start this weekend. However I’m only interested in the number one!
Let me reveal one of my – until now – secret weapon… Jean-Claude Vaucard is a true legend of motorsport. He’s engineered some of the world’s fastest rally and race cars, including the Xsara WRC Sebastien Loeb made his name in and Volkswagen’s Race Touareg, which set new standards in off-road racing at the Dakar. And now Jean-Claude is working with us.
It’s fantastic to have somebody like Jean-Claude working on the car; he attended some of our pre-season testing and came up with some solutions I hadn’t thought of. He really is a legend and he’s our secret weapon this season!
It’s been too long out of the car for me. I don’t like to have such a big break away from competition, but I don’t talk about that any more. Like the races and the championships we have won, they are history, something to smile about when I retire – a lot of years from now.
I am only interested to look forward. This week and this season. And what a fight, what an incredible year we are going to have. There are more drivers than ever in a position to win races this year, more drivers than ever who want to take the championship in Argentina. We have to be better than them all.
There’s a lot of talk about Sebastien Loeb and that’s understandable. He’s amazing. If you want to talk numbers, go and talk numbers with Loeb – his are the best statistics. I have known him for a long time and I know what a fierce competitor he is. Out of the car he’s nice, but in the car, trust me, he’s Mr Tough Guy.
Loeb will be at the front fighting. We know what he did in rallying and we’ve seen his racing ability in the World Touring Car Championship – he was also impressive in the two rallycross races he did before. As well as that, he has a very good car and a very good team behind him. But, like I said, Seb is one of eight, nine or maybe even 10 drivers who could win races this year.
As I stand here in Portugal before our final shakedown test, it’s hard not to feel a little bit like the underdog. Some of the teams here are testing three cars and they’ve got their big hospitality and big budgets. PSRX is a smaller team than most, but we’ve shown how effective, efficient and competitive we are.