Sweden’s Pite Havsbad was crawling with greats of global motorsport today ahead of this weekend’s Race Of Champions World Final (February 5-6)
Legendary names from series including Formula 1, NASCAR, Indy 500, Le Mans and World Rally put in their first practice laps of ROC’s new ice track on the frozen Baltic Sea just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle
FIA World Rally and Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg neatly summed up his priorities: “The main thing is to beat the Swedes…”
Seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson added: “Team USA is made up of two Californian guys who have never driven on snow and ice before… What could go wrong?”
2021 W Series runner-up Emma Kimilainen replaces F1 star Valtteri Bottas in the ROC line-up, also partnering double F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen on Team Finland in the ROC Nations Cup
The racing action gets under way with tomorrow’s ROC Nations Cup at 1200 CET followed by Sunday’s individual Race Of Champions, also at 1200 CET
The event, the first time the Race Of Champions has ever taken place on ice, will be broadcast LIVE on TV all over the world. For more details see below…
Driving greats from all over the world have arrived in the icy cold of Sweden ahead of this weekend’s Race Of Champions – and they have been enjoying their first practice laps of the brand new purpose-built ROC parallel track on the frozen Baltic Sea at Pite Havsbad, just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle.
The Race Of Champions brings together some of the world’s greatest drivers from motorsport’s major disciplines – including Formula 1, NASCAR, Indy 500, Le Mans, World Rally and Rallycross – and sets them free to battle head-to-head.
As ever the drivers will race in identical cars on the exact same track, so winners will be decided by skill alone. This year’s selection of mighty machinery includes the FIA RX2e – an electric rallycross car generating 250kW power and up to 510 Nm torque. The Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport will also feature alongside the off-road Polaris RZR PRO XP, while the SuperCar Lites return, this time powered by 100% fossil-free biofuel.
There has been a late change to this weekend’s line-up as 2021 W Series runner-up Emma Kimilainen replaces F1 star Valtteri Bottas, who has late commitments with his new Alfa Romeo team ahead of the 2022 season.
Bottas explained: “I was really looking forward to my first participation in the Race Of Champions, but unfortunately I have last minute obligations with my new team preparing for the upcoming F1 season which means I can’t attend ROC this weekend as planned. I’m really sorry about this, but I have already confirmed my participation for next year’s Race Of Champions! I wish everyone a great event, be safe and have a lot of fun!”
The competitive action starts with tomorrow’s ROC Nations Cup, when the drivers pair up in national teams (Saturday February 5, 12:00-15:00 CET). Then comes the individual Race Of Champions (Sunday February 6, 12:00-15:00 CET) 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 ROC track for the first time, the drivers faced the media at Pite Havsbad. Here’s a selection of what they’ve said so far:
Sebastian Vettel, four-time F1 World Champion (Team Germany)
“It’s great to be back at the Race Of Champions. I have many happy memories from both on and off the track, but especially off the track! Michael Schumacher and I won the ROC Nations Cup six times and Mick and I reached the final in Mexico. Now this event is another new challenge. I’m a big fan of this part of the world and these wintry conditions. I’ve done very little driving on ice and I’m still struggling to judge exactly what I need to do, but that’s the name of the game, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s obviously very different to what we do in F1, which is to try to keep things as clean as possible. Here you have to do the opposite – and you need to slide, but not too much…”
Mick Schumacher, F1 racer, FIA F2 and F3 Champion (Team Germany)
“My first time driving on ice was in 2014 and I’ve only done it two or three times since then, so my experience is pretty marginal. But I’ve always enjoyed it and this will be a fun – and hopefully successful – weekend. As for the cars, the electric rallycross car is really fun but the Polaris has the upper hand for me right now. The track is slippery and I’ve hit a few walls but that’s OK. They’re soft, at least for now!”
Jimmie Johnson, seven-time NASCAR Cup Champion (Team USA)
“The Race Of Champions has two sides: what the cameras see on the track and what goes on after the cameras go off. The best part is the camaraderie in this group and being able to hang around with racers from other disciplines that we don’t usually get a chance to meet. My first ROC was in the Canary Islands 20 years ago and it was a special experience. As for Team USA’s chances this time, it’s obvious that we’re the favourites, right?! We’re two Californian guys who have never driven on snow and ice before… What could go wrong?”
Colton Herta, youngest IndyCar Series race winner (Team USA)
“I’m just so excited to be here and to get going. I’m enjoying everything so far but it’s all very new to me because I’ve never driven on ice. Jimmie has some experience on dirt but I don’t even have that. Every single technique you learn in single-seaters is the opposite to what you learn here. The starts are going to be important because the traction pushing away is very different. But I’m looking forward to the challenge. This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time!”
Mika Hakkinen, double F1 World Champion (Team Finland)
“This event has a great atmosphere. It’s fantastic to see so many great drivers and everyone involved in the organisation is doing a great job. I’ve done the Arctic Rally three times, so I have at least driven on ice. As for Team Finland, it’s a pity Valtteri had last-minute commitments but it’s brilliant to have Emma as a team-mate. I’ve been following her development in the W Series and her career is going really well. As for the secret of success here? I’ll tell you on Sunday…”
Emma Kimilainen, 2021 W Series runner-up (Team Finland)
“It’s an honour to be here, so thank you very much to the Race Of Champions for inviting me. Coming from Finland we are used to driving on slippery surfaces, but I haven’t done any real racing on ice. Yet I love driving in the wet in single-seaters so I’m enjoying this opportunity too. It’s amazing to be among these brilliant drivers who have achieved so much in their careers. Mika is my childhood hero, and I remember watching him race every Sunday when I was a child. So to be considered as a part of this group is a dream come true.”
Sébastien Loeb, nine-time World Rally Champion (Team France)
“I have some very good memories from the Race Of Champions going back to when it came to the Stade de France in Paris. It’s great to meet up with all the other drivers in such a nice atmosphere. In the racing we have to adapt to all the cars, which is an even more complicated situation here given these icy conditions. I’m happy to be with Didier too. He helped me out when I first arrived in the World Rally Championship so now I’ll try to help him in return!”
Didier Auriol, World Rally Champion, four-time ROC Champion (Team France)
“I am very happy to be here, not least because it’s nearly 30 years since I stopped competing. When I won my last ROC title in 1999 it was a completely different story, with only rally drivers and rally cars, so it was much more comfortable for me. I come from the older generation who never used left-foot braking so I’m having to learn a lot quickly. But I’m happy to be here with Sébastien and let’s see how we get on.”
Johan Kristoffersson, four-time FIA World Rallycross Champion (Team Nordic)
“It’s great to be back at the Race Of Champions, and this weekend’s racing will be interesting. I’ve had quite a lot of experience on surfaces like this, but as always at ROC there are plenty of very talented people here. They will pick up all the tips and tricks very quickly. I’m happy to have Tom alongside me for Team Nordic too. He is on a mission and he has the most ROC experience of anyone as he’s been here a record 16 times. He’s picking up tricks too, so here’s hoping we’re the ones to beat.”
Tom Kristensen, nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner (Team Nordic)
“I fell in love with the Race Of Champions at my very first event when I was partnered with Stig Blomqvist in Gran Canaria. I was driving a Mk I Escort, which was what my Dad raced while we grew up. That’s why I’m always very quick to say yes when I get invited. Since then I have many great memories, not least winning the ROC Nations Cup for Team Nordic with Petter a few years ago. That was in Barbados so it’s a big temperature difference now we are on snow and ice. I have a lot to learn but it’s nice to get feedback from Johan, who is the king of low speed grip!”
Petter Solberg, FIA World Rally and Rallycross Champion (Team Norway)
“For sure as Scandinavians we know this surface a bit better than some of the other guys but there are always surprises at the Race Of Champions. Some people say they’ve never tried it, then we find out they’ve spent a week practising in Finland! But it’s great to be here with Oliver meeting all these amazing drivers from around the world. I have no more advice to give him, other than not to listen to anyone here because there are a lot of smart guys here coming up with a lot of BS! We will do what we can, but the main thing is to beat the Swedes…”
Oliver Solberg, rising WRC star (Team Norway)
“I’ve heard so many stories about this event from my Dad, and now I’m here it’s exactly what I expected. There are so many idols here who I’ve looked up to from different types of motorsport: Jimmie Johnson, Tom Kristensen and David Coulthard, who had a nice chat with last night! These driving legends are all so friendly it makes the event so much fun. I haven’t tried all the cars yet and the conditions are very tricky, but I like it more when it’s challenging!”
Timmy Hansen, FIA World Rallycross Champion (Team Sweden)
“I’ve always watched the Race Of Champions so it’s really cool to be here, especially to have it here in Sweden on snow and ice. When I won the FIA World Rallycross Championship in 2019 I was hoping to get a chance but then Covid happened. That meant I raced in last year’s Virtual ROC instead, and I was very happy to win that. Now I’m here at the real thing, it’s a great atmosphere and I’m making sure to enjoy it. It’s great to team up with Mattias in the ROC Nations Cup. Driving on ice is natural to me but the draw is looking tough so you have to be on it. We’re going to have fun.”
Mattias Ekström, double DTM and World Rallycross Champion (Team Sweden)
“The Race Of Champions has meant a lot to me over the years, not least having some great battles with Michael Schumacher in Germany. So I’m always happy to get a call from Fredrik, especially this year because it’s in Sweden. The best of the best from the motorsport community are always here, and I’ve been lucky to win it three times. As for being paired with Timmy for Team Sweden, well, he once wanted to punch me, so I’ll hope the temperatures aren’t as high this weekend! We will do our best and share our experience to try and take a home victory.”
Helio Castroneves, four-time Indy 500 Winner (Team Latin America)
“What I enjoy most about this event is being with friends and being close to drivers who were our heroes – Mika Hakkinen in my case. I grew up watching him race, and now I’m racing against him, so it's a real honour. I’ve never driven on snow but the good news for our team in the ROC Nations Cup is that I’m paired with a rally driver. I’m so glad Benito is on my team, but I have to warn him: You’re on your own here…”
Benito Guerra, reigning ROC Champion of Champions (Team Latin America)
“Thank you very much to Fredrik Johnsson and his team for this opportunity. I’m really happy to be here, especially to be competing with Helio, who is someone I’ve admired for many years. Now we are becoming friends and representing the whole Latin American community. It’s fair to say this is not the weather we’re used to. It’s the first time on snow for both of us and it’s a different way of going racing, but we’ll find a way, though I’ll admit it was hard to find suitable clothes back in Mexico…”
Jamie Chadwick, double W Series Champion (Team GB)
“This event is a lot of fun. To have the chance to do this kind of driving on snow and ice is amazing anyway, and doing it here at the Race Of Champions makes it even more special. It’s all a new experience for me, though I am glad to have had some off-road experience in Extreme E. It’s a pinch-yourself moment for someone like me to be among so many greats. It’s nice to hear about the different motorsport worlds and I’m just soaking up what I can. As for the ROC Nations Cup, our strategy is not to set our expectations too high and to take what comes.”
David Coulthard, winner of 13 F1 grands prix (Team GB)
“What brings me back to the Race Of Champions is the camaraderie. There is so much to enjoy, the driving is almost an inconvenience! Jamie is a great team-mate too. I’ve been involved with the W Series and it’s also great to be with a competitive racing driver. I’m only sorry that she has to put up with a 50-year-old who is faster at the bar than on the track! As for our first opponents Team Finland, I spent nine years as team-mates to Finns so I’m used to battling them. I think Mika’s eyesight’s starting to go so let’s see how we do…”
Jarno Opmeer, double F1 Esports Pro Series Champion (Team eROC All Stars)
“It feels amazing to win the eROC World Final. Yesterday I was struggling on the sim so I’m really happy to come through and win in the end. Now our prize is something really special, and it’s amazing that we are going up against Team Germany in the first round. I was a child when Seb was winning his F1 world championships, so it’s fantastic to have a chance to race him. But this event is like that: you just walk into the restaurant and you see all these great champions everywhere. It’s super special.”
Lucas Blakeley, F1 Esports Pro Series title contender (Team eROC All Stars)
“It seems everything Jarno touches he wins, so full credit to him today, but this whole experience has been mind-blowing. Getting out doing the assessment lap was one of the coolest things I’ll ever get to do in my life. And now we get to compete in the ROC Nations Cup, and going up against two F1 drivers in Seb and Mick is quite a way to start! Saying it now it doesn’t even feel real, and it might not even feel real afterwards either. It’s a massive privilege, and no matter what happens, we’ll give it everything.”
This weekend’s action begins with the ROC Nations Cup, where the drivers pair up to battle for the title of world’s fastest nation (Saturday February 5, 12:00-15:00 CET). Then all teamwork goes out of the window for the individual Race Of Champions to crown the ROC Champion of Champions (Sunday February 6, 12:00-15:00 CET).
Watch all this weekend’s racing LIVE all over the world on networks including SVT1 and SVT Play (Sweden), C More Max and Cmore.fi (Finland), NRK (Norway), Canal + (France, Switzerland, Poland), Sky Sports Germany (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), Sky Sports (UK, Ireland), Portable TV (much of Europe), NENT (Denmark, Iceland), Ziggo (Netherlands), Abola (Portugal), TV3 (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Inception Media (Romania), RTL (Croatia), Cosmote TV (Greece), Cablenet (Cyprus), S Sport (Turkey), SSC (Middle East), MavTV and MotorTrendonDemand (USA), REV TV (Canada), Fox Sports 3 (Latin America), ESPN4 (Brazil), Supersport (South Africa), Canal + and Supersport (Africa), J-Sports (Japan), Astro (Malaysia, Brunei), FPT (Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam), EMTEK (Indonesia, Timor Leste) and HK-Cable (Hong Kong).