DTM champion Rene Rast and World Endurance Champion Timo Bernhard have won a record eighth ROC Nations Cup title for Germany at this years ROC event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The annual event, which sees drivers from the world’s biggest motor sport series team up and battle it out for national and personal pride, kicked off with the traditional ROC Nations Cup in the capital city of Saudi Arabia. Some of the cars in use this year were the Vuhl 05 ROC Edition, Ariel Atom Cup, Xtreme Pickup, Whelen NASCAR, KTM X-Bow Comp R and the ROC Car. The drivers were racing on a purpose-built parallel track in the stadium featuring a unique crossover bridge.
Team Germany were the defending nation this year, following Sebastian Vettel’s one man victory for the ROC nations cup at Merlins Park in Miami in 2017. This was after his team mate Pascal Wehrlein was unable to race for Germany following a serious crash in the Race of Champions the previous night.
The action begun with the 11 teams, an all time record entry for the ROC Nations Cup, being split into three groups and competing in a round-robin. With so many great drivers representing their nations, it didn’t take long for some big names to fall early into the competition.
Group A was perhaps the most hotly contested group, with Team Germany, Team USA, Team Mexico, and Team Latin Americas all competing. Team USA, who were being represented by IndyCar champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden, were the first casualties of such a competitive group. While Newgarden was able to take two wins for the USA team it wasn’t enough to see them out of the group stages. They were joined by Team Mexico soon after, represented by Memo Rojas and Abraham Calderon who also failed to qualify with their single win. Team Germany with Rast and Bernhard topped Group A with five wins. While Team Latin America, represented by IndyCar legends Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves, took four wins to progress through as the best second-placed team.
Group B was also a tough group, with Team GB, Team Nordic, Team Sweden, and Team Simracing all competing together. Despite a win apiece from David Coulthard and Lando Norris, it was not enough for Team Great Britain to advance through, and they fell at the first hurdle. One of the better performances of the night were Team Simracing All-Stars, represented by Rudy van Buren and Enzo Bonito. The two drivers took two wins against the professionals, but it wasn’t quite enough for the gamers to advance through to the next round. Team Nordic, represented as always by Mr Le Mans Tom Kristensen and World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg, managed four wins apiece. While Team Sweden Johan Kristoffersson and Joel Eriksson also finished on four wins. Team Nordic ended up qualifying for the Semi-Finals on countback of fastest times.
Group C was an all Middle East affair, and an incredibly tense one at that with all three teams finishing on two wins. On countback on fastest times Team UAE with Khaled Al Qubaisi and Khalid Al Qassimi, and Team Lebanon represented by Karl Massaad and Mansour Chebli, were eliminated from the competition. This meant the home nation, Team Saudi Arabia represented by Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Ahmed Bin Khanen thrilled their home fans in the Riyadh stadium by making it to the semi-finals. Team Saudi Arabia’s night ended soon after however, as they were beaten in straight heats against Team Germany in the semi-finals.
The other semi-final was an epic battle between Team Latin America and Team Nordic. Montoya, who was the 2017 ROC Champion of Champions, took one win while Solberg took the other. In the final heat it was Montoya who triumphed, allowing Team Latin America to face Team Germany in the final.
In the first heat of the final Rast beat off the challenge of Montoya. While in the second heat Castroneves struck back by beating Bernhard, meaning the Nations Cup went down to the final heat between Rast and Castroneves. Rast was simply just too strong in the finale for Castroneves, and went through to win the final heat, gifting Team Germany the ROC nations cup for a record eighth time.
There is plenty more action to come in Riyadh on Saturday as the drivers put their regional friendships aside and go it alone in the individual Race Of Champions, to be crowned the Champion of Champions.