STCC: Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky returns to victory at Mantorp
Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky returned to the top step of the podium with a brilliant victory at Mantorp Park's third race, as the Swede will now fight for the runner-up spot in the STCC season finale.
The fifth and penultimate round of the 2021 Scandinavian Touring Car Championship at Mantorp Park turned out to be a rather historical weekend for PWR Racing team.
The CUPRA customer team headed to the 3.125 km racetrack in Mjölby, Sweden, leading both the drivers and teams standings, with STCC and Extreme E star Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky second in the points behind teammate Robert Dahlgren.
With a 65 point margin, Dahlgren had the opportunity to claim the title with one round to spare and become one of the series' most successful drivers of all times.
"My goal for the season is still top three in the championship" - said Kottulinsky before the event, as she was also battling third placed Tobias Brink (Brink Motorsport).
On Saturday, Dahlgren took pole position for the first race of the weekend, while Andreas Bäckman - brother of Jessica - set the new track record and pole position in Q2, as he joined for a one-off appearance with Brink Motorsport. In difficult mixed-weather conditions, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky was ninth fastest.
"Very rough day today", she wrote. "Wet conditions with a dry race line. We managed one fast lap but a mistake put me on the wet part of the track and the quali was unfortunately over for us."
The first race of the weekend was a lights to flag victory for Robert Dahlgren, who was never under threat and clinched his 44th victory in the series - an all time record for STCC.
Brink followed in second, ahead of Mikael Karlsson who had a great start off the line from the third row of the grid, passing Söderström and Bäckman.
It wasn't an easy race for Andreas Bäckman: starting from fourth, he fell behind Mattias Andersson as well, before coming under pressure from the recovering Åhlin-Kottulinsky.
Unfortunately, the two made contact at Turn 8 on lap 3. Bäckman spun, while the Swedish lady continued.
The battles for the top-5 were heated until the end: Mattias Andersson would move ahead of Brink for second place, while Karlsson and Söderström also fought for third, which would ultimately go in the hands of Tobias Brink.
Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky crossed the finish line in sixth place, but was demoted to seventh due to a penalty for the contact with Bäckman. PWR Racing, though, appealed the decision, which was indeed reversed after the race, handing back Åhlin-Kottulinsky her sixth place.
The second race at Mantorp became the title decider, as Roberth Dahlgren secured another victory and the 2021 championship starting from second on the grid.
On a drying track, Dahlgren went into the lead at Turn 1, while pole sitter Andreas Bäckman dropped to sixth.
Bäckman ended his race in the gravel at Turn 8 on the fifth lap, bringing out the Safety Car.
Meanwhile, Söderström had recovered to second place and Mattias Andersson moved up from fifth to third. Having to charge back from ninth on the grid, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky managed to advance into fifth position, where she would eventually finish after the 14 laps of the race.
Just ahead of her, Tobias Brink closed in on the championship standings, with the third race coming up a few hours later.
Isac Aronsson started from reverse grid pole, but the star of the show was Kottulinsky: lining up in sixth place, Mikaela had a stunning start and charged through the field passing one car after the other - moving into second place by the second lap. Just one lap later, she would make the winning move on Aronsson and never looked back.
A Safety Car neutralization followed when Andersson tried to find a way around Aronsson for second - the Lynk & Co driver ending his race in the gravel after contact.
When the green flag waved back again, Åhlin-Kottulinsky managed the restart perfectly and went on to win her first race of the season, in a PWR Racing 1-2 that saw newly-crowned Dahlgren finishing 4 seconds behind Åhlin-Kottulinsky.
Tobias Brink was close behind in third place, while Oliver Söderström and Andreas Bäckman rounded out the top five.
"Oh how nice! It was very heavy yesterday during qualifying and we have been chasing the first win for so long. Now we also secured the team championship! The car was so good in the race and I could move up through the field. What a job everyone in the team has done, a big thank you to everyone" - commented Mikaela.
It is her third victory in STCC - her first since 2019 - and her 16th podium.
With one triple header now remaining on the calendar, Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky will head to Ring Knutstorp in a few days' time fighting for the runner up position in the championship. She now has a 11 point margin over third-placed Tobias Brink, with 65 points still on the table.