Harri Rovanpera crowned Champion of Champions
Finnish WRC ace, Harri Rovanpera was duly crowned 2001 Champion of Champions after defeating Germany's Armin Schwarz in the Final of the prestigious Michelin Race Of Champions event at the Circuito Ciudad Deportiva Islas Canarias today. The Peugeot driver triumphed two heats to one with less than a second between both drivers in every race.
A clearly happy Rovanpera, who was appearing in the event for the first time, said afterwards: "The whole weekend has been a great experience. Getting to the final of the Nations' Cup with the All Stars team and then winning the individual event is better than I could have hoped for. Armin certainly pushed me hard but maybe I was a little lucky that two of the heats in the final were run in SEATs. It's been a couple of years since I've driven one, but I think it helped!"
The defeated finalist Schwarz commented: "I tried quite hard, but Harri was just a little bit better this time. I found my rhythm in the SAAB quicker than the SEATs which showed in my times. All today's races have been closely fought right through to the end."
In between the occasional downpour, which left the drivers' fighting for grip, the rapturous 25,000 strong Spanish crowd were entertained by some titanic battles for the coveted title.
On his way to the final, Rovanpera was forced to dig deep to beat yesterday's Junior Rally Masters Champion, Francois Duval in the first semi-final after having earlier accounted for Peugeot team-mate and 2000 World Rally Champion, Marcus Gronholm. Schwarz's passage included victories over American NASCAR driver Robby Gordon and a surprisingly easy win over many people's favourite, Alister McRae.
McRae, who along with Duval, had an unblemished record up to that point, was left ruing his luck after his SEAT Cordoba WRC stalled on the start line in the second of his best of three heat semi-final. The recently appointed 2002 Mitsubishi WRC driver said afterwards: "It was just one of those things. Although I was disappointed about not making it to the Final, it has been a great event to be involved in."
Earlier, the Briton had knocked out World 500cc Grand Prix bike Champion, Valentino Rossi, who again proved that he could hold his own on the professional rally stage with a consummate performance, finishing both heats hot on McRae's heels.
As a result of this victory, Harri Rovanpera joins an illustrious rallying roll-call which includes such luminaries as Carlos Sainz, Tommi Makinen, Colin McRae, Didier Auriol, Stig Blomqvist and Juha Kankkunen, all of whom have claimed the prestigious title of Michelin Champion of Champions.