The Race Of Champions was created in 1988, the brainchild of IMP (International Media Productions) President Fredrik Johnsson and Michèle Mouton, the most successful female rally driver of all time.
The first edition of the event, held in Paris, celebrated the 10th anniversary of the inaugural World Rally Drivers Championship, gathering all the sport’s champions together in identical cars. It was also held in memory of the late Henri Toivonen, who died at the Corsica Rally while leading the world championship in 1986. The Henri Toivonen Memorial trophy is still awarded to the winner of the Race Of Champions each year.
The Race Of Champions switched to its current parallel track format in 1989 at the Nürburgring, the first ever car race to do so. After establishing a temporary base in Gran Canaria from 1992 to 2003, the event has since taken in a variety of the world’s most evocative venues including the Stade de France in Paris, London’s Wembley Stadium and Beijing’s ‘Bird’s Nest’ Olympic Stadium. In 2010 it returned to German soil at Düsseldorf’s ESPRIT arena before heading to Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium in 2012.
Originally conceived as the ultimate shootout between the best international rally stars, experts from other motor sport disciplines increasingly craved their share of the action. Over the last decade in particular, the racers have given the rally boys more than just a run for their money. They include Formula 1 world champions Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, MotoGP legends Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Mick Doohan, eight-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen and serial NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Rally stars still hold their own: Sébastien Ogier took the 2011 crown while six-time world champion Sébastien Loeb beat David Coulthard by a fraction of a second in the decisive heat of the 2008 final at Wembley for his third ROC title. Previous rally drivers who have won the event include the late Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol, who took a record four ROC victories.
Nevertheless, motor racing got its own back with Romain Grosjean's win in 2012. The tarmac racers also have their own multiple ‘Champion of Champions’ in DTM hero Mattias Ekström. The Swede took his third ROC win at Beijing in 2009, defeating Schumacher in the final after earlier knocking out reigning F1 champion Button. Clearly no respecter of legendary status, Ekström had taken his first title by defeating Loeb in the 2006 Paris final, before doing the same to Schumacher at Wembley the following year.
Schumacher has had his own back in the ROC Nations Cup, however, in partnership with countryman Sebastian Vettel. This event, hosted at the Race Of Champions every year since 1999, is like the World Cup of motor sport, pitching nation against nation in on-track battle courtesy of two fired-up drivers. Germany has won the last six titles, another record, but the other winners make up a cosmopolitan spread including France, Finland, Spain and the USA.
See our history section for more details...