With the ink on his new Volkswagen World Rally Championship contract barely dry, Sébastien Ogier held off Audi legend Tom Kristensen in the final to claim victory in the 2011 Race of Champions.
Inside the ESPRIT Arena, with its roof firmly shut to keep out the December weather, Ogier disposed of current DTM champion Martin Tomczyk and World Touring Car star Andy Priaulx en route to the final. The RoC rookie had plenty to smile about after the win. “I’m so happy,” he said, “it was a very nice weekend. Tom is a really good driver but to win this race at the first attempt is amazing. I was 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.”
Kristensen was equally happy after reaching the final by defeating no fewer than five current Formula 1 drivers. Vitaly Petrov, Romain Grosjean, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher all fell by the wayside to ‘Mr Le Mans’, who was in fine form all weekend. He was no match for Ogier in the final, but was nevertheless thrilled with his performance. “Sébastien is a very deserved winner. To beat both Michael and Sebastian [Vettel] 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 crowd 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!”
Local heroes Vettel and Schumacher took the Nations Cup with an incredible fifth straight win in front of their adoring home crowd. “It’s special to win five in a row,” said Vettel. “You jump into different cars and it’s easy to lose it, so you have to push yourself to the limit. Winning at home makes up for the Nürburgring, which wasn’t my best race of the F1 season! I enjoyed tonight. The fans were incredible.”
Schumacher added: “Sebastian and I are good mates and we work well together. Unlike him this is one of the few wins I’ve had this year. There are so many great drivers here and we’re all good in our own area. So this is just a nice competition, and the social moments that we spend together behind the scenes are special.”
Other notable performances came from American X-Games star Travis Pastrana, who spent every moment out on the circuit either going sideways or knocking lumps out of the barriers, and usually brought his car home with considerably less bodywork than when it started. Although Team America went out in the early stages, Pastrana and team-mate Brian Deegan got the fans cheering with their wild antics.
As the RoC team start preparing for next year’s event, keep an eye out for where the caravan of superstars pitches up next time. After all, where else can you see F1 World Champions go head to head with rally drivers or extreme sports stars in a motorbike-engined buggy or a V8-powered stock car?