13-time Formula 1 Grand Prix winner David Couthard put in the drive of his life against the other drivers competing, to with the Race of Champions, and be crowned the Champion of Champions for the second time in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Following Team Germany’s record making success in the ROC Nations Cup, all allegiances and ties were thrown away for the Race of Champions, as drivers battled individually for out and out glory. All wanting to be crowned the Champion of Champions. The individual Race of Champions pits some of the world’s best drivers in a range of identical cars, including the Vuhl 05 ROC Edition, Ariel Atom Cup, Xtreme Pickup, Whelen NASCAR, KTM X-Bow Comp R and the ROC Car.
Before the racing began though there was a poignant reminder at the start and a tribute to a ROC legend. The drivers unfurled a banner in conjunction with the institute for advanced research into brain and spinal cord injuries ICM. This was of course in honour of six time ROC Nations Cup winner, and seven time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher, as he continues his recovery from his skiing accident.
Once the tribute was over it was time to get down to the racing. The drivers were split into four groups of four and competed in a round robin again to battle for the right to win the group, and line up in the knockout stages.
Group A was utterly dominated by IndyCar legend Juan Pablo Montoya with three wins out of three for the 2017 Champion of Champions. That meant it was all about the battle for the runners up spot to get out of the group. It was a tough battle, but eventually Ryan Hunter-Reay pipped fellow Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves to the runner’s up spot in the group. That meant the Castroneves, who was part of Team Latin America that made the ROC Nations Cup final this year, progressed no further in the tournament. He was joined on the side-lines by Mexico’s European Le Mans Series Champion Memo Rojas.
In Group B it was a similar story with Couthard taking an easy three wins to sail through to the knockouts. He was joined in the quarter finals by Le Mams master Tom Kristensen who managed two wins in the heats. This meant McLaren World’s Fastest Gamer Rudy van Buren failed to progress despite a fine win against 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Timo Bernhard. While Bernhard may have won the ROC Nations Cup this year for Team Germany, he couldn’t repeat some of that magic for the Champion of Champion’s battle, and was knocked out in the group stages as well.
Group C was the tightest battle of the heats, which featured three reigning champions of their respective series. In the end three of the drivers ended up on two wins apiece, meaning it went down to which two drivers had done the fastest lap. This meant 2017 World Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson, and European F3 runner-up Joel Eriksson went through to the quarter finals at the expense of 2017 DTM Champion Rene Rast. Much like his counterpart Bernhard, when it came down to the individual battle, Rast was not quite up to the challenge. European F3 Champion Lando Norris suffered a crash in his first race, which meant he too also failed to progress.
Group D saw double World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg storm through with three victories to his name. He was joined in the final stages by 2017 Indycar Champion Josef Newgarden, who won two races to progress through. ROC Factor Saudi Arabia winner Ahmed Bin Khanen won the battle of the home heroes against WRC2 Rally winner Yazeed Al-Rajhi, but it was not enough for either of them to stay in the competition.
The quarter finals were a bad round if you were an American open-wheel specialists, as three of the drivers found out. Newgarden crashed out of his heat allowing Kristoffersson an easy run through to the semi-finals. He was not the last IndyCar legend to fall, as Kristensen avenged his defeat in the Grand Final last year by knocking out Montoya in the quarter finals. This meant the 2017 Champion of Champions was out, and progressed no further in defending his crown. Next up Coulthard beat Hunter-Reay into a spot in the semi-finals, solidifying the defeat of the IndyCar champions. Finally, Solberg defeated Eriksson to complete the semi-final line-up.
The semi finals saw Couthard go up against Kristensen, the six-time runner up in the Race of Champions. Coulthard eventually beat him, meaning Kristensen will still have to wait for that first ROC Champion of Champions crown. The other heat was a spirited affair between two Rallycross team mates. Eventually though Kristoffersson, who was beaten by his rallycross team-mate Solberg, who went through to face Coulthard in the Grand Final.
Solberg had never been in the Grand Final for the Champion of Champion’s battle before, which was in contrast to Coulthard who was a previous winner of Champion of Champions crown in 2014 in Barbados. Coulthard had also previously reached the Grand Final at Wembley in 2008 when he was pipped by Sébastien Loeb. The Grand Final boiled down to a battle between two legends of motorsport in a best of three. But in the end Coulthard saw off double World Rallycross Champion Solberg in two straight heats to become Champion of Champions for the second time.
Afterwards a delighted Coulthard said: “I had to work hard out there and my heart is beating hard now! So thanks to Petter for a great race. He’s a great sport and a great champion. When I went out of the ROC Nations Cup yesterday after winning just one race out of three my son switched off the TV because he thought ‘Daddy’s too old’ so I’m delighted to show him experience can be a good thing too… Today I pushed hard but it’s also about being clean. I touched the wall once over the course of the day but other than that I kept it on the track.
“It’s great to have been part of the first Race Of Champions here in Riyadh too. It’s been a nice atmosphere and the people in the crowd have been treated to non-stop action. So thank you to Fredrik Johnsson and his team for yet another great event. To be honest I’m always surprised when Fredrik invites me because I don’t race any more, but I’m delighted when he does. The camaraderie with all the other drivers is special and we’ve had a wonderful welcome here.”
Solberg added: “First of all, congratulations to David. I was doing everything I could to win it, but it wasn’t quite enough today. David drove very well and he has the right mentality so this was very well deserved. He’s a better circuit driver than me, that’s for sure. I still like to be a bit more sideways! But I’m proud and happy to make it to the final against such a strong field.
“I’ve been coming to the Race Of Champions for many years. It’s incredible to get all these great drivers together and it was a great atmosphere again this time. So thank you to everyone watching in the stadium and around the world. We’ve been made to feel really welcome and the passion from everyone involved has been clear. Fredrik and his team have done a fantastic job. I always enjoy this event and I’ll be back…”
Race of Champions will return next year with a new line up, new cars, and a new venue as well.