Mikko Jalonen, Race Of Champions correspondent
Ahead of the Race of Champions: Nations’ Cup, can anyone stop Team Germany from winning a fifth time in a row? Motorsport.com takes a look to the group draw and the teams participating at the Nations’ Cup.
Race of Champions was formed back in 1988 by the most successful female rally driver ever, Michéle Mouton along with International Media Productions president, Fredrik Johnsson, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the World Rally Championship but also the event was held in memory to the late Henri Toivonen. Over the years it has become the top season ending race to feature some of the best drivers from all around the world. The event, which during its first years was just held between rally drivers, has since been growing to a huge spectacle among all the forms of motorsports and has some of the best drivers from F1, WRC, Le Mans and motocross to take part. At the first part of the preview, we take a look to the Nations’ Cup which was held for the first time at 1999 and for its driver line-up of the 2011 edition. The event will take place at the 3rd of December in ESPRIT Arena at Düsseldorf, Germany.
Group A will represent the clash between four teams including Team France represented by the WRC driver, Sébastien Ogier and the 2011 GP2 champion, Romain Grosjean. Team Nordic, represented by Audi endurance sportscar driver and the eight time Le Mans winner, Tom Kristensen is pairing with the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Championship champion and 2011 S-WRC champion, Juho Hänninen from Finland. ROC veteran, Tom Kristensen was extremely happy to be back.
“When you come here, you can tell that very passionate people put on this event. They’ve set a new record this year in building up this track since Monday evening’s football match. We see people from all around motorsport, there’s a great camaraderie and at the same time we put on our helmets and race all these different cars, which is always a great challenge. That’s a nice way to have the final race before Christmas. My advice to my ROC Nations’ Cup team-mate Juho Hänninen would be just to go flat out and enjoy it.”
Two other teams at group A are Team USA and its dynamic duo, Travis Pastrana and Brian Deegan, both most known for their gold medals in X-Games and at last but not the worst, Sat 1 Team Germany 2 represented by the Virgin Marussia Racing´s F1 driver, Timo Glock and the double winning DTM champion from 2008 and 2009, Timo Scheider. Team USA newcomer Brian Deegan was excited about the experience.
“I’m excited. It’s cool to come over here and compete with Travis on the same team. We’re usually up against each other so hopefully we can take it home for Team USA. I’m pumped. It’s an honour for me to be here. I’ve spent the last few years racing rally cars and off-road trucks and I love it, it’s fun. I’ve broken a lot of bones on dirt bikes so I feel much safer in a roll cage…”
Each team will face each other once just and the most points collected by two teams will advance to the semifinals.
Group B will see big favourites and rivals, Team Germany and Team Great Britain to clash once more. Even at the group stage setting we may still find a potential final. Both teams also have the same drivers as in previous years and Germany will defend their titles once more with the F1 combo of great champions, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher. Vettel and Schumacher are looking their fifth win in a row in the Nations’ Cup and the question goes if Team Great Britain driven by McLaren Mercedes pilot and 2009 F1 Champion, Jenson Button along with the three time World Touring Car champion and current BMW driver, Andy Priaulx can stop the Germans from winning once more. Priaulx was on hand after the test day and hopes to get one better and finally beat the Germans on their home soil.
“I’ve been runner-up a few times now so I hope to go one better this time. Last year my team-mate Jason Plato was the best on the dance floor and Jenson’s had a great season in F1 so let’s see. But we can’t take anything for granted. It’s very close and all these guys are pretty sharp. Today I actually managed to crash on the way into the stadium when I took off my wing mirror…”
It seems quite difficult so far. When I’m driving the Skoda it’s easy but all the others are a bit of a fight.
The other two teams for group B are the Team All Stars and Team Slavic. Team All Stars are fielding a last year Champion of Champions, Felipe Albuquerque and the ex. ROC finalist and an ex.F1 driver, David Coulthard. Meanwhile Team Slavic fields a pair of ROC rookies, Vitaly Petrov the Lotus Renault GP F1 driver and the Intercontinental Rally Challenge Skoda pilot, Jan Kopecký from Czech Republic. Kopecký admits that the challenge is tough but hopes to improve during the weekend.
“I finished in second place for the third season in a row in the IRC rally so that was disappointing, but it’s a great opportunity to be here with some big names this weekend. So I’d like to thank the organizers for the invite and I will try to enjoy it. It seems quite difficult so far. When I’m driving the Skoda it’s easy but all the others are a bit of a fight. So I hope we will improve tomorrow.”
Competition will set of at tomorrow, 5.00pm German time.