Champions head to the UK for 2007 ROC

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Champions head to the UK for 2007 ROC

Sixteen of the best road/oval racing and rally drivers from across the world will be heading to Wembley Stadium in the United Kingdom. They come for an end-of-season gladiatorial style motorsport event on the 16th of December...

Sixteen of the best road/oval racing and rally drivers from across the world will be heading to Wembley Stadium in the United Kingdom. They come for an end-of-season gladiatorial style motorsport event on the 16th of December 2007.

Overall view inside the Wembley Stadium.
Photo by IMP.
This exciting event, where drivers will race in identical track conditions against each other with a selection of five cars, is expected to draw 80,000 spectators. The parallel tarmac track will be specially constructed in Wembley stadium for the Race of Champions (ROC); it will be the first motorsport event at the new venue.

Now in its 20th year, ROC drivers will gather again to compete in a straight shootout to win the Champion of Champions title as well as the Nations' Cup, a team event.

The event historically favors drivers from the world of rallying, having taken seventeen out of the nineteen Champion of Champions titles. Previous victors include Didier Auriol, who won the event four times. Sebastien Loeb, Juha Kankkunen and Stig Blomqvist are all credited with taking ROC titles twice. Other rally aces to win are Andrea Aghini, Francois Delecour, Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Tommi Makinen, Harri Rovanpera and Marcus Gronholm.

The rally drivers' success in the event has only broken twice, with a win in 2004 by open-wheel racer Heikki Kovalainen and last year's winner Mattias Ekstrom. However, German Touring Car (DTM) racer Ekstrom has a rallying background, being the Swedish Rally Group N Winner in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo in 2004. He also recorded 8 starts in the World Rally Championship (WRC) with a 10th place in the 2005 Swedish Rally in a Skoda Fabia WRC entry.

The drivers competing in the event this year include seven-time Formula One (F1) World Champion Michael Schumacher partnering up with Toro Rosso's F1 driver Sebastian Vettel for team Germany.

Schumacher was a race of Champions finalist in the 2004 event in Paris. He beat World Rally champion and two-time Champion of Champions Sebastien Loeb in the semi-final but missed out in the final to Kovalainen.

Jenson Button, Marcus Gronholm and Andy Priaulx.
Photo by IMP.
Team Autosport England will comprise of Honda Racing F1 driver Jenson Button paired with World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx. Priaulx recently took his third World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) title in a row driving for BMW Team UK.

Team F1 Racing Scotland will be represented by Red Bull Racing F1 driver David Coulthard who will compete with former British Rally champion Alistair McRae. Alistair will now be driving at the race after the tragic loss of his brother Colin. The late Colin McRae, a crowd favorite in the ROC competition, was a previous Champion of Champions title winner in 1998.

Team USA pairs 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) with the Subaru/Vermont SportsCar driver and 2006 Rally America champion Travis Pastrana. Both American drivers are previous entrants in the ROC, Johnson is a former off-road racer and aided in achieving the Nations' Cup win in 2002 for the American team.

Team France is comprised of four-time Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais (Newman/Haas Racing) and SEAT Sport WTCC driver Yvan Muller, who won the British Touring Car Championship in 2003. Bourdais first entered the event in 2004 and Muller was the 2000 winner of the Nations' Cup for the French team.

DTM winner and 24 Hours of Le Mans master Tom Kristensen of Denmark joins last year's ROC champion Ekstrom. The Swedish racer along with Kristensen make up a very strong pairing for Team Scandinavia. Kristensen was a 2005 Nations' Cup winner and Champion of Champions finalist.

Team Finland's Kovalainen, the 2004 World Series by Nissan champion and current Renault F1 driver has always done well at this event. He wowed the crowds in 2004 becoming Champion of Champions as well as being a finalist in the Nations' Cup at the same event.

Last year, the Finn scored another success along side teammate Gronholm winning the Nations' Cup. Two-time WRC champion and BP-Ford team driver Gronholm, driving again for Team Finland, is another driver with a history of very strong performances in this event. He was a finalist in his first in 2000 and the earned the Champion of Champions in 2002.

Ford Focus WRC.
Photo by IMP.
Whilst the ROC would normally pair one rally and one race driver together, the late entry of Team Norway has rally star brothers Henning and Petter Solberg driving. Henning, a Five-time Norwegian Rally Champion and current WRC Stobart M-Sport driver will drive with younger brother Petter, the 2003 WRC Champion for Subaru World Rally team. This pair has rallying in the blood; their parents were both keen rally-cross drivers. Petter started his rallying career on the fields of his parents farm aged just eight. The highly competitive pair was separated by just thirteen points in the WRC 2008 standings, with Petter finishing the season in fifth and Henning sixth overall.

All the competitors will do battle in a selection of different cars as described below:

* The familiar ROC car, a 475kg light weight, rear wheel drive racer with 170 bhp will be raced again at the event.

* New this year, the gorgeous Aston Martin V8 Vantage n24 will make an exciting addition to the line up with its 4300cc, 32 valve V8 engine producing 410 bhp through the rear wheels.

* The first rally car entrant comes courtesy of the Ford Focus RS WRC07. The 300 bhp 4 wheel drive car will be familiar office for Ford rally drivers Gronholm and Henning Solberg.

* A second rally car, the FIAT Grande Punto S2000 Abarth will also be included. This car races in the European FIA Rally Championship, the International Rally Challenge and the Italian Rally Championship amongst others.

* Completing the selection is the Solution F prototype touring car. This car has been racing in France and Belgium for the last 2 years and recorded a good result in the Dubai 24 Hours race.

The scene is set for a very exciting competition. With the format providing as level a playing field as possible any one of the drivers could take the Champion of Champions title. The Nations' Cup team event will also provide a fascinating battle.

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