Filipe Albuquerque delivered a thrilling performance to eclipse 15 superstars of motorsport and win The Race of Champions individual drivers competition at his first attempt on an exciting afternoon in Düsseldorf.
In front of a packed ESPRIT arena the Portuguese driver overcame World Rally champion Sébastien Loeb 2-1 in the best-of-three Grand Final on the specially-constructed parallel track to earn the title of Champion of Champions.
Following Team Germany’s win last night in the ROC Nations Cup, The Race of Champions pitted 16 of the biggest names in motorsport against each other in head-to-head combat in a variety of different cars.
ROC South Europe winner Albuquerque’s route to the final took him past Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel in a very tight semi-final following his quarter-final triumph against fellow Portuguese driver Alvaro Parente.
Loeb reached the Grand Final courtesy of a quarter-final win over eight-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen followed by victory against would touring car star Andy Priaulx in the powerful Audi R8 LMS.
In another quarter-final, an epic clash saw home favourites, and F1 rivals, Vettel and Schumacher clash in KTM X-Bows. Victory went to the younger man by just over half a second. Priaulx then beat Bertrand Baguette in the other last-eight tie.
The action began with a bang in the round-robin group stage, which featured four groups of four drivers fighting it out for the right to line up in the knock-out quarter-finals.
In the very first race of the day, Heikki Kovalainen suffered a huge accident after the chequered flag when his Audi R8 LMS ploughed through the barriers and hit the concrete wall hard. Heikki’s rear wheel kissed the wall when exiting the final bend, lost steering and then the throttle jammed. Heikki still finished the race just 0.1495 seconds behind Loeb. You can view the accident as it happened in the following clip.
The F1 driver escaped injury but needed a precautionary visit to a local hospital for checks which prevented him taking any further part. He and Jeroen Bleekemolen were eliminated from Group A as Loeb and Baguette progressed.
Group B saw motorcycling hero Mick Doohan miss out along with Travis Pastrana, who suffered a stall, a last-corner defeat and a spin in his three races. Priaulx won all three races while Kristensen also went through.
It was close too in Group C, where Albuquerque and Vettel took the top two spots, knocking out NASCAR front-runner Carl Edwards and X-Games gold medallist Tanner Foust.
The final group of the first round featured an incredible combined 11 F1 world championships and Schumacher beat Alain Prost by just over a second in a closely-fought contest in the ROC Car.
Schumacher won all three first-round races with Parente going through as runner-up. Current British touring car champion Jason Plato missed out, as did Prost, who spun out of his last race in the KTM X-Bow.
A total of 64,052 fans attended The Race of Champions during the course of the weekend.
After a breathless afternoon of action, this is what some of the drivers had to say:
Filipe Albuquerque: “Today was my day. Everything went so well and I made no mistakes. Since the beginning I was up against such good drivers – I had to beat Sebastian Vettel twice and in the final, wow, Sébastien was really on it. I just drove my race and when I won the first one I was really happy. In the second race I made a small mistake and straightaway he was there and won – a little mistake can cause you to lose everything in this competition. But in the deciding race I was nice and smooth with no mistakes. I can’t believe it – it’s the first time I am here and I have won – I could not ask for more. To win against great names, including Vettel in Germany when he has just won the world championship, is just fantastic.”
Sébastien Loeb: “It was a really good fight but Filipe was very strong. I drove some good races and got to the final after some interesting fights; I gave everything. This morning I wasn’t so confident after what happened yesterday in the ROC Nations Cup when I was beaten by Andy Priaulx but today went much better. I won all my races except for the one that mattered most, the final. But I am sure Filipe will be back again next year to defend his title and I’d like to be back so I hope we can fight again!”
Sebastian Vettel: “It would have been interesting to have the current Formula 1 and World Rally champions together in the final but it wasn’t meant to be. That’s how it goes, Filipe drove a good race. With races coming so fast and just one race for the quarter and semi-finals, sometimes it works for you and sometimes it doesn’t. In the quarter-final against Michael it worked but in the semi I pushed too hard into the first corner and lost too much time. The race against Michael was fun and it was very tight after one lap. What happened last year in the semi-final went through my head and I was thinking ‘not again’. That time I shunted the car but this year I managed to get it to the line first so it was nice to pay him back.”
Michael Schumacher: “The problem against Sebastian was that after the first lap I was ahead and I was probably too cautious. I was too careful and he got to the line first. But it’s been really nice to be here with all these talented guys. On the one hand it is a competitive event but also it is a bit more relaxed and we have the chance to catch up with people we otherwise don’t get to see, so I have enjoyed the weekend. I’m also happy Heikki and his girlfriend came out of his accident okay.”
Heikki Kovalainen: “I am fine luckily, no injuries, and also my girlfriend who was my passenger is fine. It was a major shunt and it started from the touch of the wall just before the finish line. I tried to use every inch of the circuit and I just kissed the wall. Then I was a passenger as I hit the wall at the first corner. It was a decent shunt.”
Alain Prost: “It was a slippery track surface on my second race after some fluid was dropped on the track and that made a big difference, particularly on the last corner and infield. But it was okay, just less grip, no big problem. I have enjoyed The Race of Champions more and more over the weekend and it’s a shame I didn’t go further – I would like to have another go! I am getting used to the cars; it is not easy but I really started to enjoy it.”
Andy Priaulx: “Sébastien Loeb is a tough guy to race against. You can never be too confident in this event because it’s instant knockout so one small mistake and you’re out. But I tried to just have fun and push hard. I’ve had a great time anyway. To race against Michael Schumacher yesterday was a great honour and then today to go against Mick Doohan, who is a great hero of mine, made it a great weekend anyway.”
Carl Edwards: “I did the best I could. Thanks to all the fans for coming out here; it has been a fun event and I have enjoyed it. I just needed to win something! The issue is I race on lots bigger tracks than this but I should still be able to pick it up. I got a good run in my second race but had a bit of trouble on the last lap and lost against Filipe Albuquerque. This event is a challenge because these drivers are very good and everyone is a champion. They are very competitive – everyone is smiling but they are still very competitive.”
Travis Pastrana: “In my first race the car stalled, I have no idea why, so I had no chance. I just choked on the last bend of my race against Tom Kristensen, my second race. I took it a bit too easy on the last lap and then pushed too hard on the last turn. Tom’s a great driver and I got knocked out but that’s the way it goes.”
Jason Plato: “I didn’t drive very well today if I’m honest. The party we had last night in the hotel was probably too good! It was great to race against Alain Prost, who was a hero to me when I was a kid, but he beat me and beat me well actually. Yes we all want to be competitive but it is a great event and it is a pleasure just to be here to compete against these fantastic names. It was an honour to be invited here and I’d love to be back again next year.”
Tom Kristensen: “Today was not too bad after yesterday didn’t go so well for Team Nordic in the ROC Nations Cup. The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic and it’s never easy to race against Sébastien Loeb. We do our best when we are in the cars but we also have a lot of fun and I am pleased my Team Nordic team-mate Heikki is fine.”