Thu 19 November 2015
Many of the world's greatest drivers put in their first laps of London's former Olympic Stadium today ahead of this weekend's Race Of Champions.
The annual end-of-season event, which has been running for over 25 years, brings together some of the world's best drivers from motor sport's major disciplines and sets them free to battle head-to-head in identical machinery.
The ROC 2015 field features no less than six current F1 drivers plus greats of other motor sport series including Le Mans, IndyCar, Rallycross and Touring Cars. They have travelled to London from all over the world including South America, the USA and Australia. Now they will be joined in Saturday's Race Of Champions by Bradley Philpot, who won today's ROC Factor shootout against rival Des Foley for the chance of a lifetime to take on many of the world's greatest drivers.
Ahead of this weekend's events the drivers faced the media at London's former Olympic Stadium. Here's a selection of what they've said so far:
Jenson BUTTON, 2009 Formula 1 World Champion (Team England 2)
"It's been a few years since I've been at the Race Of Champions so it's great to be here. It will be really nice to have the crowds so close by while we're driving. It's great to have it in the UK and it's awesome being in the Olympic Stadium. I'm sure we all watched the Olympics in 2012 and we've all got very special memories of it. I raced at ROC at Wembley in 2007 and 2008, which was an awesome experience too, and we've been to the Bird's Nest Stadium in China. But coming here is the best."
Sebastian VETTEL, four-time Formula 1 World Champion (Team Germany)
“This is a fun event and everyone who has been here before likes to come back if they get an invite. The best thing is just to spend time with guys who share a common passion. So it’s an honour to be on the grid – and obviously fighting for your nation is a privilege. I’m with Nico for the first time on Team Germany this year so we’ll push very hard to get the silverware back tomorrow. Then on Saturday you try to do it on your own. I haven’t achieved that yet so I’ve still got some catching up to do. It’s a tough competition no matter who you’re standing next to on the startline. Anyone can win and two laps is not much time to get used to the car so the tricky bit is to get everything right.”
Daniel RICCIARDO, three-time Formula 1 grand prix winner (Team Australia)
"This is my first Race Of Champions so it's like losing my virginity… Of course there are a lot of familiar faces from the F1 paddock but there are also lots of champions from other kinds of motor sport. As you can see, all of us drivers do get on but F1 is our business so other than the drivers parade we keep to ourselves a lot. But we all share a love of racing cars and it's great to get together in a light-hearted atmosphere. It's challenging to be jumping in and out of all the different cars but the guy who takes it most seriously probably won't do that well..."
David COULTHARD, reigning ROC Champion of Champions (Team Scotland)
"I'm slightly embarrassed to be here among all these great competitors now that I've retired from racing but Fredrik Johnsson and his ROC team do such a great job. The fact that we have so many F1 drivers competing here one week ahead of the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi says everything you need to know about how this event is put together. This is a great celebration of motor sport and a great chance to hang out with guys who you've admired from other series. We're all brought together by a common cause, which is a love of competition."
Tom KRISTENSEN, nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner (Team Nordic)
"Le Mans is 13.628km long whereas this track is 565 metres. You don't have any real practice, you go out in the car, go to the starting grid and drive. Each heat lasts less than two minutes so it's very different to what we normally do. It's very much a sprint. This is full action. You go out in whatever car they put in front of you and you just do your best. It's always a lot of fun – until you lose. Even if you go out early you can try to lead in the locker room instead. DC and I are both retired so we just try to smack it into the first corner and hope there's grip…"
Petter SOLBERG, reigning FIA World Rallycross Champion (Team Nordic)
"This event is always really good fun. Last year we were in Barbados and I must say David did a fantastic job. He was laughing at us at night, saying it was easy. At least Tom and I won the ROC Nations Cup so we will fight hard to try to win it again. But these other guys are certainly very good, even if they claim they're here just for fun. This event is quite close to rallycross with very short laps so it's all about not making any mistakes. A lot of things can happen on the track but the spectators will love it if someone hits the wall…"
Nico HÜLKENBERG, 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours winner (Team Germany)
“This is my first time at the Race Of Champions so I’ll have to see how it pans out but it’s great to be here. I’ve been watching it for a few years and been keen to do it so I’m happy to finally have my chance. So far the Euro NASCAR and the buggies look the most fun but some of the cars look a real handful. There seems to be absolutely no grip out there so you just have to survive. But I’ll figure it out and see how far I get. I went to Le Mans for the first time this year and won that so if the same story could play out here, that sounds good to me…”
Felipe MASSA, 11-time Formula 1 grand prix winner (Team Brazil)
"My last time here was ten years ago so I was still very young. So thanks for having me back. It's fantastic to be here in London in this amazing place. I don't know how it's going to be if we have a very wet track like today but I'm sure I'm going to enjoy it and have a lot of fun racing. We all get on well together but unfortunately in the Formula 1 paddock we can't enjoy as much time together as we do here. So I'm sure these three days will be a lot of fun. Maybe we need something a bit more like this in F1 as well…"
Mick DOOHAN, five-time 500cc MotoGP World Champion (Team Australia)
"I'd love Team Australia to be up there but while Daniel has the talent, unfortunately he's carrying an old motorbike racer along with him. So I feel a bit sorry for him. I'll try my best but it's hard to compete against guys who compete in cars day in day out. Each car has its own issue with understeer and oversteer so you have to get to grips with that. I tapped the wall today – well, more than a tap really, a good hit. It was at the quickest part of the track and I went right in. Fortunately I didn't injure myself or the passenger who came along for the ride. Still, it's a hell of a lot of fun to be here."
Jolyon PALMER, 2014 GP2 Champion (Team Young Stars)
"Barbados was great fun last year and it was a good challenge as well – the first time is always a bit of an eye-opener. That was actually my last real race too, so it's been a while. Of course we don't overtake anyone on this track but you get the competitive feeling I've been missing this year. So it will be good to get out there, hopefully knock some people out and progress. It's a great fun event with a good friendly atmosphere but everyone's quite keen to win as well. On this new pursuit track you're definitely aware of the other car from the moment you get out. As you go through the checkpoints, if you're down you throw caution to the wind, if you're up you just make sure you bring it home."
Jason PLATO, double British Touring Car Champion (Team England 1)
"Where do you ever get the chance to race against the best drivers in the world in a fantastic place like the former Olympic Stadium? Last time I was together with Andy we got to the final in Düsseldorf when we lost to Team Germany, so we want to go one better this year. All the cars have their own different challenges, especially in the wet weather. I think we'll get some good crowds and the atmosphere will be amazing so I'm really looking forward to it. Whoever flirts best with the walls and gets away with it will do well."
Andy PRIAULX, triple World Touring Car Champion (Team England 1)
"I came here to watch Usain Bolt win the 200m at the Olympics and I can't believe we've got a circuit here now. It's an honour to drive in front of your own crowd and I remember coming to Wembley when the atmosphere was fantastic. The new format with cars chasing each other will work well and the track has a nice flow to it. The last time JP came to the Race Of Champions we hit it pretty hard the night before. So hopefully we'll enjoy a bit more focus this weekend and be a bit more concentrated."
Susie WOLFF, Williams Martini Racing Official Test Driver (Team Scotland)
"I had such a great time in Barbados last year so it's fantastic to be here for my last race, and to go up against such brilliant drivers in lots of different cars. It's a completely different challenge to go as quick as you can without much warm-up or testing. With the new asphalt on the track and cold tyres and brakes, just keeping the car on track was a challenge today. But being from Scotland of course I'm not used to driving in the wet… I went to bed early last year and my team-mate David did the exact opposite – and to quite an extreme. So this year I'm changing my tactics and going out in style…"
Alex BUNCOMBE, Blancpain Endurance Series Champion (Team England 2)
"To get the chance to race with these guys out there on the track is phenomenal for me. I couldn't believe it when I got the call. The Race Of Champions has always been something I've wanted to do and now it's been made possible. So that's great. I've been lucky enough to drive quite a lot of different cars for Nissan so hopping from car to car here at the Race Of Champions shouldn't be too much of an issue. I think that's what it's going to come down to – being able to hop out of the buggy and get into the Mercedes and get straight on it. It's going to be tough but I'll certainly be doing my best."
Pascal WEHRLEIN, 2015 DTM Champion (Team Young Stars)
“This is my second Race Of Champions and it’s definitely an honour to be here. This year I wasn’t sure if I’d get invited. I asked Fredrik if I could come back again and he said I could have an invite if I won the DTM Championship. So here I am. I’m proud to be here going up against the world’s best drivers. Last year in Barbados I came second so I’ve still got one more place to improve. But it will be really tough. Everyone is really talented and in the end anyone could win.”
Ryan HUNTER-REAY, 2014 Indianapolis 500 Winner (Team Americas)
“It’s just great to be here in this company. These are the best drivers form around the world so it’s great to be here competing with them and getting to know them. Last year I got closer but that doesn’t cut it here, so hopefully this could be the year. But I learned last year that the guy you least suspect can be fast and put themselves right in the mix so you can’t count anyone out. In IndyCar we have a lot of tight street circuits so maybe that will help, but it will be very interesting if it’s wet…”
ROC 2015 begins with tomorrow evening's ROC Nations Cup, followed by the Race Of Champions itself on Saturday afternoon.
Tickets for ROC 2015 are still available at ticketmaster.co.uk/roc. For access to high-resolution imagery please visit www.raceofchampions.com. You can sign up for all the latest updates at www.raceofchampions.com, Race Of Champions on Facebook or @raceofchampions and #ROCLondon on Twitter.