Ekstrom creates the upset in Paris to win the 2006 Race of Champions
* More than 51,000 spectators watch Swedish all-rounder Mattias Ekstrom clinch a surprise win against Sebastien Loeb to take this year's Champion of Champions crown.
* On his way to claiming the 2006 title, Ekstrom's other victims included Finland's Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastien Bourdais, while Loeb reached the Super-Final after defeating former World Rally Champ Colin McRae in the Rally Drivers' final.
* After three years at the Stade de France in Paris, The Race of Champions -- Nations Cup to switch to the new Wembley Stadium in London for 2007.
Mattias Ekstrom silenced the Parisian crowd at the Stade de France this evening with a surprise win over home star Sebastien Loeb to claim victory in The 2006 Race of Champions.
It took the Swede just two races in the best-of-three Super-Final shootout to see off the three-time World Rally Champion. He also twisted the knife in the wound by defeating the Frenchman in the opening race which saw them compete in identical Citroen Xsara WRCs, the car that has taken Loeb to three straight world rally crowns.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to have won The Race of Champions," said the euphoric Swede. "It's the best moment in my life. Better even than winning my DTM title in 2004. And I'm especially proud to have beaten Loeb in his own car. I knew before that race that it would be tough and I just told myself to go for it. I didn't get off to a very good start but then the adrenalin kicked in and I fought back. Unbelievable."
On his arrival at the Stade de France this morning, the Swedish all-rounder, who has competed in this year's DTM as well as in two rounds of the World Rally Championship, was in fact feeling sick. "When I woke up this morning I had a bad stomach and I've eaten nothing all day," he revealed. "But I really wanted to get a good result and I definitely didn't like being knocked out of the ROC-Nations Cup with Tom Kristensen so early on. This is the type of circuit where if you make just one mistake it's finished. And if you only give it 99% you are beaten. To beat Seb in his own car you need to be absolutely spot on."
Defeated finalist Sebastien Loeb, who was making his return to the competitive arena today after sustaining an arm injury while mountain biking last September, was swift to praise Ekstrom for his performance. "Mattias is quick on a rally stage and also quick on a race circuit. And on top of that he drove very well today. He deserves to be champion. I was especially impressed by his speed in the Xsara WRC. It was close run, but he then left me standing in our race with the Renault Megane Trophy."
Ekstrom began the competition by beating his fellow DTM runner -- and reigning champion -- Bernd Schneider before dispensing with Heikki Kovalainen by a mere 2/1000ths of a second in the Drivers Group semi-final. "I think he was the toughest one to beat," he said. "That was tough and he has more experience with the Megane. At the end of the race I didn't know who had won."
The last 'racer' in his path on his way to the super-final was another Frenchman, Sebastien Bourdais. "I was a bit behind in my race against Ekstrom," admitted the 2006 Champ Car Champion, "so I started to push and then I locked my front wheels. I knew at once that I was in trouble and I hit the tyre wall."
Meanwhile, Loeb progressively picked off Spaniard Nani Roma, ROC-Nations Cup hero Travis Pastrana and finally Colin McRae. "I did a good job," reported the Scot, "but to beat Seb Loeb in a Citroen is never easy. I could only give it my best shot."
IMP President and The Race of Champions organiser Fredrik Johnsson profited from the end-of-event festivities to announce a new venue for The Race of Champions -- Nations Cup in 2007: "I want to say a huge thank you to everyone at the Stade de France and the fantastic French fans for the three great years we have had here. For 2007, we have been talking to some of the world's most prestigious stadiums and I can tell you this evening that the 20th anniversary event will take place next year at the new Wembley Stadium in London, England. But we do hope to be able to come back here to Paris again some time in the future."
What the drivers said...
Sebastien Bourdais (defeated in Race Drivers' semi-final by Ekstrom, Renault)
"I was a bit behind in my race against Ekstrom, so I started to push and then I locked my front wheels. I knew at once that I was in trouble and I hit the tyre wall. I tried to continue but the oil temperature warning came on and I slowed. I've had a great day: I won some races and I wasn't kicked out of first round in either competition. So that's good. We've had difficult conditions for driving today but I've had a good time."
David Coulthard (defeated by Muller in Race Drivers' 'eighth'-final, Aston Martin)
"I've had great fun and a great weekend... as usual. I hope I'm invited back. I missed a change to 2nd gear early in my race."
Marcus Gronholm (defeated by McRae in Rally Drivers' quarter-final, Porsche)
"I can't say I've enjoyed it today. I have no feeling with the track and if it hadn't been for Heikki I would have gone home empty-handed. He saved my day."
Heikki Kovalainen (defeated in Race Drivers' semi-final by Ekstrom, Renault)
"There's not much to say really. Mattias drove very well and I only lost by a small margin. I'm not happy because I wanted to make it a Nations Cup and Race of Champions double. There's no point complaining but I had a small problem with the car -- the Megane Trophy -- but that's racing and we do this for charity which is a good cause. I just hope Mattias beats Loeb in the final now, which will mean I was eliminated by the winner..."
Tom Kristensen (defeated in Race Drivers' quarter-final by Kovalainen, Aston Martin)
"It's been a great event. In 2005, it was fantastic winning the Nations Cup and reaching the final in The Race of Champions. Last year my closest fight was with Heikki and this year I've been drawn against him in both competitions. I can't believe it. He's flying, although there were just 12/100ths of a second in it. I'm sad not to be going any further. I'd love to come back next year but, please, not against Heikki again!"
Colin McRae (defeated in the Rally Drivers' final by Loeb, Citroen)
"I did a good job, but to beat Seb Loeb in a Citroen is not easy. I just did my best. In any case, I did a better job in The Race of Champions than I did in the Nations Cup."
JYvan Muller (defeated by Bourdais in the Race Drivers' semi-final, Renault)
"I lost to Bourdais by one 100th of a second. I love close fights like that. It's exciting for the drivers and also for the spectators. Today I lost but that's not a problem because this is an event where the most important thing is taking part. My career didn't depend on the outcome and I came to have a good time with my driver friends. I liked the Aston Martin. I hope Father Christmas brings me one."
Travis Pastrana (defeated by Loeb in Rally Drivers' semi-final, Citroen)
"Today has been an amazing day for me. In the last race of The Race of Champions I was getting closet to Seb. But this is his car, his country and his stadium, so there was no way I was going to beat him. I pushed too hard to begin with and I made a couple of mistakes. It's been a great day and I'm proud to have finished 2nd in the Nations Cup. The most enjoyable car to drive for me was the Citroen Xsara WRC. The Buggy was good too but I had trouble getting used to the Megane. I hope to be back next year. It's a great event."
Stephane Peterhansel (defeated by Pastrana in Rally Drivers' quarter-final, Porsche)
"Maybe I should go back to bikes! I was too keen to start pushing and I spun. Then I saw my wife on the giant screen back holding her head in her hands in the drivers' area and I spun again."
Andy Priaulx (defeated by Bourdais in Race Drivers' quarter final, Aston Martin)
"I thought I saw a chequered flag and I lifted but it must have been in the crowd. I think it was quite close up to that point. It's a huge shame. But I've really had a lot of fun this weekend."
Nani Roma (defeated by Loeb in Rally Drivers' quarter-final, Porsche)
"I drove better than I did in the Nations Cup but beating Loeb was always going to be tough. It was close in the first lap but then I made a mistake. It's a shame: I only got to race twice but I enjoyed it."
Bernd Schneider (defeated by Ekstrom in Race Drivers' quarter-final, Aston Martin)
"I'm not pleased with myself. Mattias Ekstrom was quicker than me but I've had a good time and I hope to be back next year."
Armin Schwarz (defeated by Sordo in Rally Drivers' quarter final, Porsche)
"I braked too late and the back end of the car came round. And here, if you spin, it's over. So I'm not happy with that. I'm angry against myself because I only did one round in the ROC-Nations Cup and now I'm out early in The Race of Champions."
Dani Sordo (defeated by McRae in Rally Drivers' semi-final, Citroen)
"I didn't win and I'm not happy. I tried to keep it clean but I must have lost some time. Colin McRae has still got some fire in him..."
James Thompson (defeated by Schneider in Race Drivers' quarter-final, ROC-Car)
"I just love The Race of Champions. It's a great event and very well organised. Schneider and I were very close but I made a mistake and hit a wall."
-credit: sent by newman/haas racing