The 2018 SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks season came to a formal close in 2019 as the series traveled to Mexico City for the Race of Champions. For Matt Brabham, he left the Race of Champions as a newly-crowned champion.
In a first for the series, the final month of the year was not the final month of the 2018 season. In late December, SST announced plans to compete in the 2019 Race of Champions, held at the Foro Sol baseball park in Mexico City’s Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, which was eventually revealed as the final race of the 2018 tour. While a season-concluding race weekend the following year is new, it was not SST’s first foray into ROC, having been fielded as a category for the 2014 event in Barbados.
Like in 2014, the trucks were a category for the ROC-competing drivers, though the series regulars also competed in a standalone doubleheader over the weekend. Due to the track layout and ROC’s race format, the trucks’ separate races were modeled after ROC with one-on-one duels in which the winner advanced to the next round. Even if a driver lost in the opening round, he could advance if he had the fastest time of the defeated. If a driver hit a cone, he would receive a five-second penalty. Races were divided into three laps, each split into two halves.
Robby Gordon led the way in qualifying with a session time of 57.921 seconds, followed by Blade Hildebrand (58.367), and Jeff Hoffman (58.409). Brabham, who entered the Race of Champions holding a 37-point lead in the standings over Gavin Harlien, was fourth-quickest at 58.541 ahead of Davey Hamilton Jr. (59.074), Harlien (59.138), Cole Potts (59.485), Casey Mears (59.670), Jerett Brooks (59.675), and Apdaly Lopez (1:01.207).
The first battle of Saturday’s racing was between Hildebrand (#2 seed) and Brooks (#9 seed), the latter driving the #57 UFD Racing truck. Hildebrand led the first lap with a time of 1:01.7152, a 1.07-second advantage over Brooks, which was increased to over three seconds shortly after. Brooks was unable to make up the deficit as Hildebrand finished at 3:00.9764.
In a duel of UFD Racing teammates, Hoffman (#3) took on Mears (#8). Despite a strong jump at the start by Mears, he fell behind early as Hoffman’s 31.4719 opening section time trumped his 33.9273. Mears closed the gap to .6685 seconds (Hoffman led at 1:02.1850) as Hoffman began to slip. At the checkered flag, Hoffman crossed the line first, while Mears’ time suffered a hit when he was given a penalty for hitting a cone.
Brabham (#4) and Potts (#7) were next on the order, the latter beating the former by nearly 2.5 seconds (30.8208 to 33.3198) on the opening sector. The points leader rebounded to edge Potts out 1:01.7080 to 1:02.1253. The two briefly swapped first before Brabham led the closing sections to come out on top at 3:00.5938 to 3:04.2241.
Hamilton (#5) vs. Harlien (#6) opened with the two trading the lead early on as Hamilton led first 31.2713 to 32.7043, followed by Harlien beating him 1:01.3055 to 1:02.4832, and Hamilton reclaiming it next 1:31.1066 to 1:31.8259. By the white flag, Harlien led by nearly three seconds and ultimately held on to win before Hamilton received a time penalty.
For the final race of the first round, Gordon (#1) squared off with Lopez (#10), the latter driving the #1 truck for Paul Morris in his home nation. Gordon dropped behind quickly and Lopez led the first portion 32.0138 to 32.7770 before bouncing back to lead by over two seconds (1:01.1140 to 1:03.7074). Lopez eventually began to fall off the pace as Gordon scored the round win 3:01.8941 to 3:08.8925).
Although Mears had the fastest time of the losing drivers, Potts was promoted to the second round due to Mears’ time penalty.
“I think the track’s awesome,” Brabham stated in an interview after the round. “The layout’s good, it’s good fun to drive. But we are not used to that element of just qualifying racing as each other. We’re used to biffing and bashing, throwing it down the inside and hip-checking each other out of the way. We’re missing that a little bit, but it’s still fun and the atmosphere’s great.”
Gordon and Hoffman opened the second round. Hoffman briefly led before Gordon had the faster run and began to distance himself. By the final lap, Hoffman trailed by approximately one second and could not close the margin as Gordon won 3:02.1420 to 3:03.3639.
Hildebrand faced off against Brabham in the following race, the former leading the opening half by 1.76 seconds before he nearly collided with the wall as he was on his right-side wheels. Brabham took advantage to pull ahead by two seconds and subsequently won 2:59.3194 to 3:03.2668.
The third and final battle of the round was Potts vs. Harlien. Harlien led at the first waypoint 30.5632 to 32.7040 and maintained his position. At the white flag, Harlien continued to lead by over two seconds; Potts could not catch up as Harlien claimed the win 2:59.5486 to 3:01.9920. Despite the defeat, Potts’ time was the fastest of the three losing drivers, pushing him into the third round.
The third round commenced with Gordon facing Harlien, a duel that race commentator Sean Sermini remarked “could be the final, this could be the main event because there’s so much talent on the track right now.” Gordon led the opening sector by 2.4 seconds (30.1864 to 32.5563), a margin that eventually closed to .59 seconds. Although Gordon received a five-second penalty for hitting a cone, Harlien was also penalized, balancing the times. At the start of the final lap, Gordon led by 1.21 seconds, which eventually ballooned to 3.35 after completing the first half. Harlien suffered another time penalty as Gordon pulled away to win 3:01.0773 to 3:07.2031.
Potts led Brabham early on (31.2540 to 33.1236 after the first checkpoint) before he lost ground, enabling the latter to cross the line first to complete lap one by .67 seconds. The gap grew at the last lap (Brabham’s 2:00.9505 to Potts’ 2:02.7752) before shrinking to .04 seconds upon finishing the first sector. Upon reaching the checker, Brabham secured the win 3:00.8495 to 3:02.9593.
The final round was four laps long with Gordon and Brabham fighting for the day’s race win, a battle that Sermini quipped “just makes sense.”
Brabham led the first sector 30.7291 to 32.2780, though Gordon fought back to lead the lap. The points leader retaliated by leading the second lap’s opening half 1:29.7290 to 1:30.1381 before the pattern repeated of Gordon completing the lap in front, this time leading 1:58.2391 to 2:00.0893. The trend broke on lap three as Gordon led the first section 2:28.2316 to 2:28.7621 and extended his advantage upon finishing the lap (2:56.7852 to 2:59.4064).
On the final lap, Gordon narrowly maintained his lead, crossing the line at the checkpoint 3:27.7930 to 3:28.0703. The series founder clinched the day’s victory with a final time of 3:56.0808 to Brabham’s 3:58.5839.
Brabham’s second-place finish secured him the 2018–19 SST championship, a feeling he described as bittersweet considering his ROC defeat.
“Obviously, Robby was a bit too quick for me there, I did everything I could to try and beat him, but he was just a better man today so firstly, congrats to Robby,” Brabham commented in his post-race interview. “It’s awesome to win the championship [so it’s] bittersweet, but there’s plenty more races and I’m so stoked to win the championship. It was such a heartbreak last year, one point, but I’m so happy to get it this year.”
“That was a pretty good Race 1,” Gordon said during his interview. “I think we ran the trucks too long without putting any fuel in them, and I think both Matt and myself were running out of fuel on that last lap.
“What a cool event that Fredrik (Johnsson, ROC President) does with Race of Champions. It’s an honor that we could bring Stadium Super Trucks here and race with you guys.
“Track is really, really tight, as you can see, we struggle. Two times, I was limited because I ran over cones, but the guy I was racing ran over more cones which brought me back in, so a couple times, I thought I was out and I was still in.”
Potts joined Gordon and Brabham on the podium as third place.
With the title now his, Brabham opened Sunday’s action against Hamilton. The two swapped the time lead, with Hamilton being faster when they began the final lap (2:02.4901 to 2:03.0234) before he brushed the wall; Brabham would take the win 3:01.9464 to 3:03.2312.
A rematch of Hoffman and Mears was next. Mears held the early lead as he completed the opening sector first before Hoffman led the full lap 1:01.4753 to 1:02.3462. On the final lap, Mears led by over two seconds before Hoffman decreased the margin, though Mears held on to win by half a second (3:00.4336 to 3:00.9413).
The third race of the first round was Hildebrand and Brooks. Hildebrand led the first lap 1:01.4011 to 1:02.8591; while Brooks passed him at the lap two checkpoint, Hildebrand reclaimed the top spot at the lap change. The two continued to trade the lead before Hildebrand defeated Brooks 3:02.1845 to 3:03.9479.
Gordon and Potts were next up. Saturday’s race winner took the early lead by 1.4 seconds at the first waypoint before Potts led the first lap by .11. Gordon retook first at the white flag (2:01.1687 to 2:02.2648) and drove off to the round win 3:00.2468 to 3:01.6900.
Lopez vs. Harlien was dominated by the latter, who led lap one by over four seconds (1:01.5114 to 1:05.4277), which ballooned to more than six seconds after lap two (2:01.1410 to 2:07.1672). Upon completing their runs, Harlien’s 3:01.3384 was more than eight seconds faster than Lopez (3:09.4445).
As the fastest of the losing drivers, Hoffman advanced to round two.
The second round began with Hildebrand and Hoffman. Hoffman led the first lap 1:00.6460 to 1:01.3970. Hildebrand started to drop after hitting a barrier and knocking it loose, trailing by nearly three seconds after lap two (1:59.3234 to 2:02.1939) and six seconds by the checkered flag (2:57.8796 to 3:03.6959).
A duel of the season’s top drivers was next with Brabham and Harlien. Harlien was the early leader before Brabham closed the gap and led lap two 1:59.8595 to 2:02.0441). Although Harlien chased him down to make the distance half a second at the last checkpoint, it grew to over two seconds by the finish (2:59.7166 to 3:01.8007) as Brabham claimed the round win.
“It’s just kind of frustrating,” Harlien said in an interview. “We get docked five seconds for hitting cones and stuff. I was hoping to be the Lucky Loser but there’s a cone knocked over. I don’t know who hit it but they weren’t docked five seconds, but it is what it is.
“[Losing by a tenth of a second] makes me more bummed out. That’s racing, I guess. Should have gone a tenth faster.”
Gordon led Potts after one lap 1:01.1048 to 1:01.8278, with the margin increasing a lap later (2:00.0881 to 2:01.8058). Potts fell by over four seconds at the final sector as Gordon stormed off to a 2:58.4820 to 3:01.7202 victory.
Potts moved on to the semi-final round with his time.
In a rematch of Saturday’s final, Brabham took on Gordon to open the third round. Brabham crossed the first checkpoint with a two-second advantage that shrank to half a second after completing lap one (1:00.7053 to 1:01.1244). During the second lap, Gordon was assessed a five-second penalty after knocking a cone as Brabham continued to lead. While the two were close as they took the checkered flag, Gordon’s penalty dropped him as Brabham won 2:58.4859 to 3:03.3774.
“Competition was really close,” Gordon commented after his run. “Matt’s in my last race there, I beat him to the line but they (Race Control) said I knocked a cone so if I knock a cone, I knock a cone. That’s part of the rules, and we’re here to have fun, to put on a good show and the competition is very close today at ROC.”
Hoffman led Potts after lap one 1:00.7837 to 1:02.5441, which increased to over three seconds after lap two (1:59.0832 to 2:02.3797). In the end, Hoffman won 2:57.9059 to 3:02.0578 to advance to the final.
Like on Saturday, Potts finished third in the results as he had the faster time of the two losses.
For the last competition of the season, Brabham faced Hoffman.
Hoffman led the first lap’s sector 30.0691 to 32.5983 and retained the position after completing the first lap (59.9998 to 1:01.0752). He continued his strong run into the second (1:28.0738 to 1:31.2556 at the checkpoint, 1:58.2571 to 1:59.5177 upon completion) and third laps (2:26.4626 to 2:29.7537 at halfway).
At the white flag, Hoffman led 2:56.5161 to 2:58.1919, which became 3:24.9650 to 3:28.8965 at the waypoint. Brabham could not make up the deficit as Hoffman crossed the line first by over two seconds (3:55.1557 to 3:57.5635), but a five-second penalty for brushing a cone relegated him to second and Brabham took the win.
“I made it all the way to the final so I was pumped on that,” Hoffman commented in his post-race interview. “I had gone up against (Brabham). It was a good race, I had him covered for a while, it looked like, but I guess on the last lap, I knocked over a cone so that set me back with my penalty. I don’t know, I’ll take it.
“This is a great event. Definitely not what we’re used to racing on for track-wise, but it definitely brings out the driver when we come here. It’s all technique, tight, first gear, so it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.”
“I was stoked obviously, beating Robby, that was like the homework and all the hard work over last night and today, and it’s hard to beat him. He’s a tough competitor, so I was happy about that,” Brabham stated. “I wasn’t sure where we were with the rounds.
“I’m disappointed for Hoffman. He was so fast there on that last round and he obviously did a better job at trying to learn the track than I did, and he came out firing. I’m just bummed because obviously, he was quicker, but the penalties are what decided it. I’m happy to win, but I’m also equally bummed for him; I mean, he deserves to win as well.
“At the end of the day, it’s such an awesome event. […] To get the championship is unbelievable, I’m so happy.”