Mikko Jalonen, Race Of Champions correspondent
Sebastien Ogier became the Champion of Champions at his first try by winning the final against 8 time Le Mans winner, Tom Kristensen
Sebastien Ogier, the French rally ace has won the Race of Champions at the ESPRIT arena, Düsseldorf, Germany on Sunday to earn the title Champion of Champions. At the final, Ogier was faster twice over his final competitor, Danish endurance sportscar legend Tom Kristensen.
“I’m so happy. It was a very nice weekend. Tom is a really good driver but to win this race at the first attempt is amazing. There are a lot of new cars to learn here plus the track as well. But I pushed hard all the way and I didn’t do too badly. I had a lot of fun out there though I want to congratulate Jan Kopecký for a nice race in the Skoda, which I’ll be driving next year. I was very proud to be invited to the Race Of Champions. It’s very nice to do it and to have the chance to meet all these great drivers. It’s a good party and a happy end to the year,” Ogier said.
I’m so happy... Tom is a really good driver but to win this race at the first attempt is amazing.
Ogier recently signed with the Volkswagen Motorsport team that will run selected events next year using the Skoda Fabia to kick off their full campaign in the 2013 World Rally Championship with the VW Polo R WRC. Today he got into the final ROC race by advancing through as the group D winner. Group B, which featured the Swedish DTM driver, Mattias Ekström, the 2011 DTM champion, Martin Tomczyk and the only driver whom defeated Ogier today -- Jan Kopecky the Czech Skoda works driver. Kopecky was able to defeat the French driver with a magnificent comeback in a duel between the rally drivers while using the Skoda Fabia S2000 rally cars. In the quarter final, Ogier was faster than the British BMW driver, Andy Priaulx, prior to the semis, which would determine the final. In the semi, the French defeated Tomczyk again and therefore earning a well-deserved place in the final, which Ogier won.
The runner up of the final, Tom Kristensen through was in a very good mood even when the driver missed the winning celebrations not once but twice as Kristensen´s Team Nordic was defeated at the ROC: Nations Cup final just a day earlier.
“Sébastien is a very deserved winner. He had the edge on cold tyres, especially in the ROC car. But it’s great fun to be out driving so many cars – that is an amazing experience, and especially to make it to the final on both days. To beat both Michael and Sebastian was a really big achievement for me today, particularly in Germany. It’s something very special but it’s difficult to celebrate when you're not exactly giving the crowds the result they want! I did all I could in the final and I love being part of this event. It’s almost better than Christmas!” said Kristensen.
Today the German drivers were not celebrating a win like they did yesterday for the Nations’ Cup. Both Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher were knocked out of the competition before the final. While both Formula One champions got through the group stages today. Schumacher took the group C win after defeating X-Games winner, Brian Deegan, Formula One champion Jenson Button and the IRC and SWRC champion, Juho Hänninen. Vettel was a runner up by the group D times where three drivers scored two wins each: Kristensen, Vettel and Romain Grosjean. Later Grosjean was dropped as his time was the weakest by half a second in the Skoda Fabia S2000 Rally Cars. In the quarter final, Schumacher and Vettel then faced off each other with Schumacher being faster in the KTM X-Bow before losing out with a margin of few centimeters for semifinal to Tom Kristensen behind the wheel of the similar KTM X-Bow. The semifinal was one of the closest ones in history of Race of Champions for sure.
Schumacher said, “Of course I’d like to have gone further, but the whole point of this event is the atmosphere and the fun we have. Congratulations to Tom Kristensen for knocking me out in the semi-finals. It was pretty tight but it's not about the two hundredths that separated us or the fact that I beat Seb earlier in the evening. You always enjoy winning, absolutely, and if you win against a good driver that’s even better. But win or lose I’ve had a really enjoyable weekend here, as ever.”
For Americans Deegan and Travis Pastrana, the event was very harsh as both were knocked out during the group stages. Deegan and Pastrana were more than happy to give quick comments. Indeed Pastrana summed up his day of the event with the words “Event was great and too bad that I wasn't able to go forward today. I did my best today which just wasn't enough,” with a smile on his face despite walking in a painful way as he was limping pretty heavily.
Deegan was a bit at the same lines. “My day was pretty harsh. In the end this was my first time in here which I really enjoyed and I just don´t have the experience as most of the drivers in here. The track was pretty okay but the pavement doesn't really fit for my style. I grew up with the dirt bikes and like much more to slide my car around the gravel tracks and to drive more rallycross style tracks heats which fits to my style and liking much better. This all was still great fun.“
ROC Legends Cup was also driven before the actual Race of Champions and in the one heat final between Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Marc Duez, it was a very tight battle with racing the VW Scirocco. It was Frentzen who came out victorious. In this competition four legends, former F1 racer Frentzen, German race legend Hans Joachim Stuck, former rally driver and world champion Stig Blomqvist and the Belgian race and rally legend Duez, were facing off first in a group stage before two best headed into the final. The competition provided some great racing and in the first duel between Frentzen and Blomqvist, there was more than action as at first Frentzen was in trouble and looked to lose the heat and then Blomqvist while chasing him clipped the ROC buggy over the barrier marker of another track layout which gave the win to Frentzen and causing the most spectacular crash of the event.
As for next year’s ROC, all plans are still open. The organizers are still looking at those who want to host but at this time, a decision has not been made for who will host next year’s ROC. They have good offers on the table and in the few weeks, the ROC organization will take a closer look at the potential candidates and will evaluate all the offers very carefully.
See also Nations' Cup winning team story