Thu 01 February 2018
Driving greats from all over the world have arrived in Riyadh ahead of this weekend’s Race Of Champions – and today they put in their first practice laps of the brand new ROC parallel track inside the King Fahad International Stadium.
The annual Race Of Champions brings together some of the world’s greatest drivers from motor sport’s major disciplines – including Formula 1, IndyCar, Le Mans, Rally X and Touring Cars – and sets them free to battle head-to-head in identical supercars.
The competitive action starts with tomorrow evening’s ROC Nations Cup, when the drivers pair up in teams according to nationality. Then comes Saturday’s individual Race Of Champions, when it’s a straight battle to come away with the coveted title of ROC Champion of Champions.
As they tried out the all-new track for the first time, the drivers faced the media at the King Fahad International Stadium. Here’s a selection of what they’ve said so far:
David COULTHARD, 13-time Formula 1 grand prix winner (Team GB)
“I’m delighted to be here in Saudi Arabia for the Race Of Champions. I first visited in 1997 when I was driving for McLaren, then I came to do a demo of Red Bull Racing’s F1 car. So it’s great to see how the Kingdom has evolved and it’s a credit to Fredrik Johnsson, the ROC team and everyone who has made this year's event possible.
“As for the race, all the cars are different so the challenge is to adapt quickly, because the feeling can be very different from one car to the next. The main secret is consistency. Over this whole event you never really do a 100 percent lap because if you do go over the limit it’s a crash. So it’s about going to 99 percent for race after race. If you do that you can go all the way. Equally there’s a lot of great talent out there, so you can find yourself out after two races…”
Juan Pablo MONTOYA, reigning ROC Champion of Champions (Team Latin America)
“Last year in Miami was my first experience of the Race Of Champions and now I’m happy to be back. This is my first time in Saudi Arabia and it’s a great experience for all of us to be in this country. It’s always fun to meet new people and everyone has been very welcoming. We also get to meet different drivers from all over the world and it’s great to have a chance to spend time together away from the track. This circuit is very different to the Miami one, with the crossover bridge and a lot of big corners, so it should be a lot of fun.”
Helio CASTRONEVES, triple Indy 500 winner (Team Latin America)
“I would like to express my thanks to Fredrik Johnsson and the Race Of Champions team for having us here. This is a tremendous event and it’s given us the chance to race in different places and different cultures, so it’s really a big honour to be here. This year we’re also going to be facing some professional sim racers, which will be especially interesting to see. I’m terrible at video games but this is a great opportunity for them and I want to see how they get on.”
Petter SOLBERG, double FIA World Rallycross Champion (Team Nordic)
“I’ve been travelling all over the world for rally and rallycross, but I’ve never been to this country before so I’m very excited to be here. This isn’t quite my perfect kind of racing because I like to go sideways, a bit more rally-style. So here we have to calm down a bit and learn from the racing guys. But the main thing is to make no mistakes. It will definitely be fun and there will be big action. Everyone says they come here to enjoy it but that’s BS. Everyone is totally committed and going for it…”
Ryan HUNTER-REAY, 2014 Indy 500 winner (Team USA)
“It’s a huge honour to be a part of the Race Of Champions. Any time you’re invited to a race like this, grab it… We’re among a great group of drivers and we all go out and have fun. The camaraderie is there and it’s a good bond that we have. But we make a good show of it too. It will also be great to link the worlds of real life racing and sim racing together. We all spend a lot of time in the simulator nowadays so it will be interesting to see how their skills translate to the racetrack.”
Josef NEWGARDEN, 2017 IndyCar Champion (Team USA)
“I’ve always been a big fan of the Race Of Champions. This isn’t as pressured as an IndyCar race but we’re all racing drivers so we get very competitive and all these champions want to beat each other. I’m here with Ryan Hunter-Reay, who’s another American IndyCar Champion – and there aren’t that many of us so we’ll be sticking together here and hope we can be successful.
“Experience counts here, knowing what to expect from these cars. But rookies end up doing well here too because they don’t come in with high expectations. The key is to be able to react quickly to all the different cars and to go backwards and forwards between different driving styles. Whoever’s best at that will win…”
Lando NORRIS, 2017 FIA European F3 Champion (Team GB)
“I’ve watched the Race Of Champions on TV several times so it’s cool to be here. I’ve come to experience something very different. I’m looking forward to it, especially to have the chance to work with David Coulthard. Obviously I’ll try my best – and the fact that I’m on a team with David in the ROC Nations Cup means we have a chance of doing well – but the main thing is to have fun and to learn from these great racers.”
Timo BERNHARD, 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours winner (Team Germany)
“It’s great to see so many great, successful drivers here. We all come from different disciplines but we all share the same passion. Of course René and I have big shoes to fill in the ROC Nations Cup because of all the success Team Germany has had over the years. We are both new to the event and it takes a bit of time to get used to it. When the lights go green everyone gets competitive but the main thing is that it’s fun to be here. Coming from the World Endurance Championship I’m used to long races, whereas these only take a minute…”
René RAST, 2017 DTM Champion (Team Germany)
“I haven’t been to Saudi Arabia before but I raced for a Saudi team in the Porsche Supercup and we won the championship. So it’s good to come here and it’s inspiring to experience a different culture. We’ve been made to feel very welcome, the stadium is very impressive and they’ve done a good job to build this track. All the cars are fun, but so far my favourite car is the ROC car, which you can drift. The KTM X-Bow and the NASCAR are also very cool cars, and they all require different driving styles. So the challenge tomorrow will be to adapt to all those cars quickly.”
Johan KRISTOFFERSSON, 2017 FIA World Rallycross Champion (Team Sweden)
“I’m a rookie at the Race Of Champions so it’s good to be here. I enjoyed practising in all the different cars today. But whereas we had four laps for practice, tomorrow it will be all about nailing it over one lap. That means there’s no room for error. Most of all I expect to have a lot of fun and enjoy meeting all these different drivers. I’ll be racing for Team Sweden with Joel Eriksson and we can especially look forward to going up against Team Nordic’s Petter Solberg and Tom Kristensen tomorrow…”
Yazeed AL-RAJHI, WRC2 rally winner (Team Saudi Arabia)
“This is the first time the Race Of Champions has been held in this region and it’s a great thing for Saudi Arabia. So I’m very happy today and I’d like to extend a warm welcome to everyone involved this weekend. It has taken a lot of work to transform our biggest football stadium into a racetrack so I hope a lot of people come to watch the action tomorrow and Saturday. Of course racing at home means bigger pressure for me too! I’ll do my best and fight hard but there are a lot of great champions and top drivers from all over the world, so I think you have to accept that someone else might win!”
Memo ROJAS, 2017 European Le Mans Series Champion (Team Mexico)
“It’s really good to share the track with drivers from so many different disciplines, and I don’t think there’s anywhere else where you get this blend of racing talent together in one spot. So I guess that leads to putting on a great show. Some of us know each other from other forms of racing: I’ve raced with Timo, Juan Pablo and Helio over the years. But there are others who I’ve never raced from very different environments like rally and NASCAR. The stadium’s amazing, the people are very nice to us and we’re really happy to be here. Abraham and I are really enjoying it so we’ll do the best we can to do well for Team Mexico against the best talent in the world.”
Abraham CALDERON, 2017 NASCAR Mexico Champion (Team Mexico)
“I’m really excited and proud to be here and to be a part of the Race Of Champions. I’ve known about this great event for many years, so thank you to everyone involved. This is my first time in Riyadh too and I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s a great city. It’s impressive how they can build a track like this in ten days, so congratulations because we all know that takes a lot of hard work. I’ve already had a chance to get to know the cars and they’re really fun – and all different. As it’s Memo and my first time here we want to do as well as we can, but it’s not going to be easy…”
Mansour CHEBLI, ROC Factor Middle East winner (Team Lebanon)
“I’m a true amateur driver – I’ve done some circuit racing and some kart races, but that’s it. But I’ve already tried out the KTM X-Bow, which is a really good car to drive. So that’s my favourite so far…”
Karl MASSAAD, ROC Factor Middle East competitor (Team UAE)
“It’s a dream to come here and race alongside some of these great names from the world of motor sport. So I’m just here to enjoy myself. As for the cars themselves, the KTM X-Bow looks really nice, and the Whelen NASCAR will be an interesting one because it’s very wide…”
Khalid AL QASSIMI, ROC Factor Middle East competitor (Team UAE)
“This event is great news for motorsport in the region – indeed this is just what the region is looking for. It’s great to have multinational drivers from different categories and different areas of expertise coming together: rally drivers, circuit drivers. That’s a nice combination. So I think the Kingdom has been very successful in bringing this event over here. It’s also important to us from the UAE to have an event like this in Saudi Arabia and I wish them all the best.”
You can watch the event LIVE all over the world on networks including Saudi Sport TV and MBC Action (Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East), CBS and Motor Trend OnDemand (USA and Canada), Fox Sports (Latin America and Australia), Sky Sports (UK and Ireland), Arena Sport (Eastern Europe), Viasat (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden), Cyta (Cyprus), J-Sports (Japan), Jackie Chan DC Media (China), HK-Cable (Hong Kong), Astro (Malaysia) and SuperSport (Africa).
Territories without a live broadcaster will be able to watch the live stream on www.raceofchampions.com and ROC's Facebook page. In addition all territories will be able to watch live coverage of the inaugural eROC on www.raceofchampions.com and ROC's Facebook page on Friday at 15.45 local time in Riyadh (UK time +3).
For access to rights-free high-resolution imagery and to keep up with all the latest news ahead of this year’s event please visit www.raceofchampions.com, Race Of Champions on Facebook plus @raceofchampions and #ROCRiyadh on Twitter.