Four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel put in a stunning performance to eclipse 19 fellow stars of motor sport and win the Race Of Champions for the first time on a thrilling afternoon of action at London’s former Olympic Stadium.
Following Team England 1’s triumph in last night’s ROC Nations Cup, all cooperation went out of the window today as the individual Race Of Champions pitted many of motor sport’s biggest names in identical cars on a brand new Olympic cycling-style pursuit track.
On a bitterly cold but sunny day at the iconic London venue, the best-of-three Grand Final boiled down to a battle between two of the world’s biggest motorsport legends. But in the end Vettel saw off nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen to become Champion of Champions for the first time.
Vettel had never been in the Race Of Champions Grand Final before, despite his six ROC Nations Cup wins in partnership with Michael Schumacher for Team Germany. Kristensen, by contrast, has been in the Grand Final no less than four times without yet coming out on top.
Vettel said: “Of course I’m very happy and honoured to win – but that took a while! A lot of world class racing drivers have won this trophy. I’ve tried to win this many times and failed many times but finally I’ve succeeded.
“What the Race Of Champions gives us is a lot of joy. When we were kids starting to race, we did it for pure joy and this sort of event is a good reminder of that. When you close the visor, ultimately victory is still what drives you. But I’ve tried to win this so many times, today was more like a surprise. We all know this format is very difficult because no one gets much time in the cars so you need to find your rhythm quickly. Today I had the feeling I found it straightaway. It was very cold but it was a great atmosphere so thank you very much to everyone for coming to watch.”
Kristensen added: “Seb is a deserved winner – he drove brilliantly and he showed that skill in the final. I gave my all and it was close but he’s been really on it here. Obviously I retired last year but it was great to come back and remind myself how it was to compete – and to stay on the track all the way to the final. ROC is all about fun and it was good to see so many people watching in the cold conditions. Apart from Seb, the main achievement today was by the people who have been here supporting this great event.”
In the semi-finals, Vettel beat reigning Champion of Champions David Coulthard 2-1 after the Scotsman jumped the start in the deciding heat. The other race saw the end of a spirited run by Blancpain Endurance Series Champion Alex Buncombe, who was beaten 2-0 by Kristensen.
Last night’s triumphant ROC Nations Cup winners for Team England 1 Andy Priaulx and Jason Plato finally paid the price for their celebrations in the last eight, losing to Kristensen and Buncombe respectively.
In the other quarter-finals Vettel saw off the challenge of his Team Germany partner from yesterday, 2015 Le Mans winner Nico Hülkenberg. Yet another Formula 1 star went out as Brazil’s Felipe Massa was pipped by Coulthard by just four hundredths of a second.
On her last racing appearance Susie Wolff went out with a defeat by her countryman Coulthard. Other last 16 casualties included Rallycross ace Petter Solberg, beaten by Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, who was pipped by fellow F1 star Hülkenberg, and reigning Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jr, who lost to Kristensen.
There was disappointment for the home crowd as F1 world champion Jenson Button was beaten by Massa but his fellow countrymen did better. Plato put out F1’s Romain Grosjean and Priaulx defeated Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Then Buncombe beat Bradley Philpot, who replaced injured MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo in the draw as winner of the ROC Factor social media vote.
The first round losers were WTCC champion José Maria López, beaten by Hunter-Reay, and DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein, who lost out to Priaulx and was unable to repeat his 2014 Grand Final appearance. Motorcycling legend Mick Doohan lost to Philpot while GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer was defeated by Buncombe.
Petter Solberg earlier sealed the first triumph of the day in the inaugural ROC Skills Challenge presented by TAG Heuer. The course is designed to put the drivers through their paces over a range of tests such as slaloms, 360 degree turns and parallel parking. Solberg showed his stuntman potential as he set the fastest time ahead of Buncombe, Philpot, Vettel and Massa.
Another man making history at London’s former Olympic Stadium was stunt driver Terry Grant, who set a new world record for the most people in a car on two wheels. He packed a scarcely imaginable 16 people into his Range Rover Sport SVR as he took to the circuit and gave them the ride of their lives.
Before the racing the drivers unfurled a banner in conjunction with the institute for advanced research into brain and spinal cord injuries ICM in honour of ROC’s absent friend (and six-time ROC Nations Cup winner) Michael Schumacher as he continues his recovery from his skiing accident. ROC will also support the joint Gene Therapy research programme that Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London and Necker Hospital in Paris are working on to find a cure for Children with HLH.
Today’s action at London’s former Olympic Stadium marks the end of the Race Of Champions for 2015. We hope you enjoyed this annual festival of motor sport and entertainment and we look forward to seeing you back next year for ROC 2016. Keep up with all the latest news throughout the year at www.raceofchampions.com, Race Of Champions on Facebook and @raceofchampions on Twitter.