Mattias Ekstrom defeated Mick Schumacher in 2023 Race of Champions individual running to win the series for the fourth time.
Double DTM and FIA World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekström put in a stunning performance to eclipse 17 fellow superstars of motorsport and win the 2023 Race Of Champions for a record-equalling fourth time – on a day of non-stop action on the frozen Baltic Sea at Sweden’s Pite Havsbad, just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle.
Following Team Norway’s triumph in yesterday’s ROC Nations Cup, all cooperation went out of the window today. The individual Race Of Champions pitted some of the world’s greatest drivers – from series including Formula 1, Formula 2, IndyCar, Le Mans, W Series, World Rally, World Rallycross, Nitro Rallycross and X-Games –head-to-head on an icy parallel track featuring ROC’s iconic crossover bridge.
On a sunny afternoon at Pite Havsbad, the Race Of Champions saw greats of global motorsport battling for glory in a mix of identical machinery – including the electric Cupra UrbanRebel Concept, Zeroid X1 rallycross car powered by QEV and FC1-X Nitro Rallycross car. The off-road Polaris RZR PRO XP made a welcome ROC return as did the SuperCar Lites, now powered by 100% fossil-free biofuel.
In front of packed crowds of Swedish fans braving the cold, the best-of-three Grand Final boiled down to a duel between home hopeful Ekström and Mercedes-AMG F1 reserve driver Mick Schumacher. After a thrilling finale as both drivers pushed to the limit, Ekström saw off his German rival by two heats to nil – despite a brief scare when he had to put out a fire in his car – to be crowned ROC Champion of Champions for the fourth time. The Swede thus equals the all-time Race Of Champions record also held by French rally greats Didier Auriol and Sébastien Loeb.
Incredibly, Ekström won two of his previous ROC titles against Mick’s father Michael – at London’s Wembley Stadium in 2007 and at Beijing’s Olympic Stadium in 2009 – which made today’s finale even more special. To reach the Grand Final Ekström and Schumacher had to see off a field featuring 18 of the world’s greatest drivers. Because the track conditions on snow and ice can change quickly depending on the weather, ROC’s traditional group stage did not take place. Instead this year’s Race Of Champions used a straight knockout system with the field split into two halves: one featured the international racing drivers while the other had the rally experts and those with more experience of off-road driving.
At the semi-final stage Schumacher defeated his fellow countryman, the four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel, 2-0 to take bragging rights in the circuit racers’ half of the draw. On the rally side, Ekström finished on top of the pile having brought an end to a spirited run by Thierry Neuville, the winner of 17 WRC rallies. The quarter-finals saw many big names bite the dust – not least nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen, who lost to Vettel. The reigning FIA Formula 2 Champion Felipe Drugovich was the other racing driver who went out, beaten by Schumacher on countback of fastest times after a 1-1 tie.
On the rally side Ekström saw off his fellow Swede, the five-time World Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson, after a close battle between the two home hopefuls. The last driver going out at this stage was yesterday’s ROC Nations Cup winner for Team Norway Oliver Solberg, who lost to Neuville after crashing out of their first heat.
The Round of 16 was another graveyard for motorsport’s superstars. In the racing half of the draw, double F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen fell to Drugovich and 10-time F1 grand prix winner Valtteri Bottas lost to Kristensen. 2022 eTouring Car World Cup Champion Adrien Tambay and triple W Series Champion Jamie Chadwick also left the competition at this stage, beaten by Schumacher and Vettel respectively.
The rally side of the draw was just as brutal. Reigning ROC Champion of Champions and nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb fell to Neuville, albeit beaten by just four hundredths of a second. Loeb’s fellow World Rally Champion Petter Solberg lost the battle for family pride, defeated by son Oliver after their shared triumph for Team Norway in yesterday’s ROC Nations Cup. McLaren Extreme E driver Tanner Foust was another of the early casualties, falling to Kristoffersson, while extreme sports legend and Nitro Rallycross Champion Travis Pastrana lost out to Ekström.
Kicking off the afternoon’s action, four of the racing drivers were matched up in pairs for two Round 1 play-offs. 13-time F1 grand prix winner David Coulthard fell to defeat by Tambay while IndyCar race winner Felix Rosenqvist had to bid an early goodbye after spinning off against Schumacher.
Ahead of the main competition, the home fans were given a treat as four Swedish heroes took part in a celebrity race in the Polaris RZR PRO XP. The field featured Olympic skiing gold medallists Ingemar Stenmark and Anja Pärson, ice hockey’s NHL legend and Olympic gold medallist Tomas Holmström and YouTube sensation Emil Hansius. In the end it was Holmström who came out on top, beating Stenmark in the final while Hansius pipped Pärson for bronze.
This year’s Race Of Champions has raised funds and awareness towards a selection of worthwhile charities. The key recipients have included German children’s charity Kinderlachen, the Zelmerlöw and Björkman Foundation’s school in Kenya, the ICM (institute for advanced research on brain and spinal cord injuries in Paris) plus a range of the drivers’ other favourite charities.
Here’s how Team Norway won Nations Cup: https://formularapida.net/video-team-norway-wins-2023-race-of-champions-nations-cup/
[Note: The story is as per press release]