It’s not every day you get to interview a current FIA World Champion on your blog, so this post is pretty special. Mattias Ekström is the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Champion, hammering his Audi S1 EKS RX Quattro around incredible tracks worldwide to win the drivers’ championship title at the penultimate race at Estering, Germany, earlier this year.
Taking part in the ‘My Motorsport Year‘ advent calendar I am hosting during December on katyfairman.wordpress.com, Ekström discusses his highs and lows from the year, as well as reviewing his year that lead him to become a world champion in yet another series.
Katy Fairman: Describe Rallycross in five words.
Mattias Ekström: Spectacular, entertaining, fast, young, fan-friendly.
KF: When you start a new year, do you set yourself goals or do just try to continuously improve?
ME: My goal is always the same: I want to win.
KF: What did you get up to during the first few months of the year?
ME: Maybe this time is the busiest of the year. As an Audi DTM driver, World RX team boss and driver, you don’t have much time to rest. We do a lot of testing and preparations for the rest of the year. If you don’t do your homework in a proper way during that stage you will be far behind the rest of the grid later on.
KF: You took your first win of the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship in Hockenheim. How was that win and the weekend for you and the team?
ME: You can imagine, that is was a very special one, because I did DTM and World RX on the same weekend. I’m still really glad that my Audi bosses gave me permission to do it. On Sunday it was a bit strange to switch from my Audi S1 EKS RX quattro right after winning the final into my Audi RS 5 DTM, but that’s the business and it was one of the best weekends of the year for sure.
KF: After round two you were also tied in first place on the drivers’ standings with Solberg. Did you know from early on in the season that he would be a big championship rival for you this year?
ME: Petter is the reigning World Champion and he won the title also in 2014. Everybody knows, that he is a tough opponent, because he is fast, passionate and has a lot of experience. But I really love the battles with him.
KF: The following round in Belgium you won the race and took fastest lap. How important is it to you to win awards like ‘fastest lap’?
ME: It shows that the set-up is good and the whole package works. But at the end, these are only stats. We are more interested in check the times at the start, because these are vital in Rallycross.
KF: Lydden Hill also saw you win three race in a row. Was that something you thought you would be able to achieve at the start of the year?
ME: After our tests at the beginning of the year, we already knew that the Audi S1 EKS RX quattro will be quick this year. It was really important to get off into the season successfully. The starts were nearly perfect from the first event in Portugal. And the 1-2 finish at Hockenheim gave us a lot of self-confidence.
KF: The summer also saw a slight dip in performance, however you came back strong at Barcelona, taking the win and putting yourself back at the top of the drivers’ standings. How important is it mentally for a driver to be at the top of the standings, or if you are in second or third in the standings does it make you more motivated to reach the top?
ME: For me, it’s important to be on top at the end of the season. Sometimes things are a bit easier, when you are at the top of the standings, because you have the momentum on your side. But nobody has ever won a title by leading with half of the season gone.
KF: Obviously the highlight of your year must have been winning the Rallycross Championship. Was that your goal for this year? How did you celebrate?
ME: Yes, it was. When I started the project in 2014, I knew we were going to keep it at the same level for three years and then we would see how the sport has developed. Peugeot and Ford are really raising the bar and doing a better job than they have ever done. We are also trying, but I feel we have come to the limit of what we can achieve as a privately-run team, and if we are supposed to improve now, we will need more factory backing.
KF: Anything else happen this year that is a stand-out moment for you?
ME: There were a lot of stand-out moments, in DTM, Rallycross, but also off-track. My 22nd victory in DTM for example.
KF: Where do you think the FIA World Rallycross will be in ten years time?
ME: That’s a very good question. I’m pretty sure that there will be at least some electrification, and maybe we will race in front of 100,000 fans in the city centres of the big cities …
KF: Does it help the sport having such big names compete in the series?
ME: The bigger the names, the better. Loeb, Solberg, Block … They are all very good drivers and personalities. I think this mixture is very important for every sport. F1 guys, like David Coulthard or Jenson Button who have been talking about World RX for years, should give it a try. But there are many, many more.
KF: What have been your highs and lows from the year?
ME: There were many, many highs and fortunately only a few lows. For sure my victories in Rallycross, with the super-high at Estering, where I secured the title and felt electrified, when I realized, what happened. But also Hockenheim was a superb one. I have hope for more trophies in DTM, but maybe I get another chance next year.
KF: What are your plans for 2017?
ME: I still have some unfinished business in DTM and I would love to fight for my third title in 2017, but there is no decision taken yet. Same for World RX. It is unrealistic for me to continue without any support from Audi Sport.