NEWEST MCLAREN F1 DRIVER STARS AT THE ROC
Newly-announced McLaren F1 driver Heikki Kovalainen will be in action this weekend at Wembley Stadium for The Race of Champions 2007, where he will have some catching up to do after four of his ROC rivals were today testing on track.
Amongst the racers getting a head start were reigning ROC Champion Mattias Ekstroem and Scottish Rally star Alistair McRae as well as double NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and X Games master Travis Pastrana.
Finland's Kovalainen, The Race of Champions winner in 2004, will not be at a disadvantage though. Each of the 16 world-class ROC drivers, including Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button and David Coulthard, will have exactly the same time to practice, and McRae says every second counts.
2006 ROC Nations Cup winners, Kovalainen and Gronhoelm
"I'm sure there'll be a few spills on Sunday!" said the 1995 British Rally Champion, who will be racing for his brother, Colin, who was killed in a helicopter accident earlier this year. "The main thing is to put on a good show!
"The track is probably slightly bigger than I thought and it's really slippery with the new tarmac. It's a completely different discipline; not like racing and not like rallying. The quickest way would probably be to drive neat and tidy but we're here to entertain!"
Today's drivers got a taste of the track and some of the cars they will be driving against each other on Sunday around the parallel, tarmac track that was specially constructed at Wembley Stadium for the unique event.
Pastrana was most at home in the ROC car, a 1.1-litre multi-terrain vehicle with the engine of a Honda motorbike, probably thanks to his extensive Freestyle Motorcross experience that sees him leaping and somersaulting on dirt bikes.
"Today was awesome!" said the reigning American Rally Champion, who also sampled the Ford Focus WRC car, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage n24, the Solution F and the Fiat Grande Punto S2000 Abarth. "It was good to drive everything, but honestly the buggie was the best. It's the one I felt most at home on. It sure is a helluva lot of fun! I took off in the WRC car, all four wheels were spinning! It's the slickest thing I've ever driven in my life!"
With three-quarters of seats already sold, Wembley's atmosphere is set to be electric as fans descend to London's famous stadium for the race of the year.
"This weekend is set to be a great contest," said Fredrik Johnsson, President of event organisers IMP. "We have a superb mixture of young and established drivers all there to enjoy themselves and give fans the best show.
"We're getting some really good feedback about the track and with Wembley's set-up ensuring a great view from any seat, the public is in for a great day."