Sebastien Loeb has won The Race of Champions at Wembley Stadium yesterday.
Loeb, the five times World Rally (WRC) champion, kept his composure despite fierce pressure from fellow finalist, Britain’s David Coulthard, to become the champion of champions. The unique, annual event pitches the world’s best motorsport stars head- to-head in equal machinery on a tight and twisty, temporary tarmac track constructed atop of Wembley’s famous pitch.
With a best-of-three format for the final, Frenchman Loeb took the honours in the first race to put the pressure on the newly retired F1 driver. Coulthard responded in spectacular fashion, giving the massive British crowd hope of a home victory by piloting to victory in the second heat, driving the KTM X-Bow.
With the stage set for a thrilling finale, the two driving greats turned the famous football stadium into a adrenalin-fuelled amphitheatre; slipping and sliding the purpose-built ROC Cars to a nail-biting finish with Loeb taking the honours by just 0.3 seconds.
Fresh from sealing his third ROC crown, Loeb said: “For sure, when you are on the start line, you want to win, but with this event there is not too much pressure. It’s a very tight track and you have to give everything you can. I didn’t get as much experience as some of the others, as I only did one ROC Nations Cup race, but it was a good weekend for me.”
Despite finishing runner-up, Scotland’s Coulthard was still smiling: “The ROC is a totally unique event, and it’s always a pleasure to take part, even if you don’t win. I think there were some very exciting racing, and there’s nothing quite like being able to see the whole track. “It was a very entertaining afternoon for the British race fans, and I did my best to keep KTM busy by crashing a couple of their cars.”
This year’s ROC attracted 46,312 spectators despite the chilly December evening. Last year’s winner at Wembley’s inaugural staging of event, former DTM (German touring cars) champion, Mattias Ekstrom, was knocked out of the semi finals by Britain’s own Andy Priaulx. Loeb and Coulthard in the deciding heat of the ROC final Priaulx, the three-time World Touring car (WTCC) champion, was beaten by Loeb in the semi-finals, preventing the chance of an all-British final.
Other shock, early exits from the unique motorsport event came from the two-time ROC Nations Cup champions, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. Schumacher, the seven-time F1 champion, performed flawlessly in the earlier Nations Cup events to regain the title for Germany, but was knocked out of the first round of the driver’s event after a mistake. Britain’s other hopes for success ended early, as F1 driver, Jenson Button, and British Touring car (BTCC) ace, Jason Plato were knocked out of the first round. The Race of Champions this year included many exhibitions and demo runs, including Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren Mercedes F1 car and Andy Priaulx in his triple World Touring Car Championship-winning BMW.
Hamilton, the youngest ever F1 World Champion, was scheduled to face off against Beijing Olympic cycling hero Chris Hoy, on his racing bike, in a unique Man vs Machine challenge. However, the challenge was called off after concerns about the slippery surface of the track. -