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Drivers get their first taste of ESPRIT arena track UPDATE The superstars of world motorsport are ready to do battle in The Race of Champions this weekend after practice concluded this evening on the unique parallel track in Düsseldorf’s ESPRIT arena.

New Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel was among the drivers taking part in the final practice session this evening on the specially-constructed indoor track. Also on track were NASCAR ace Carl Edwards, motorcycling great Mick Doohan, Travis Pastrana, Jason Plato and Tanner Foust.

The group pushed to the limit – and beyond when Vettel went straight through a trackside barrier and into a gravel trap in the KTM X-Bow.

After the final practice session, the second group of drivers held a press conference to give their thoughts on the weekend’s event. This is what they had to say:

Sebastian Vettel: “It has been quite a journey since Abu Dhabi. So far I am enjoying it a lot and I have another busy weekend here. It is nice for Michael and myself to be racing in front of our home crowd and it is special to have The Race of Champions in Germany. This is a different world compared to F1 but it’s lots of fun to compete against drivers from different areas of motorsport. We are here to enjoy ourselves but as soon as we put our helmets on we all go back to race mode and try to beat the guy next to us. In practice this evening I was pushing hard and just after the bridge the car went straight on - my eyes were turning right but my car wasn’t so I ended up in the gravel trap. If I do that tomorrow or Sunday it is not going to be great for me!”

Michael Schumacher: “This is a great opportunity for Sebastian and I to race in front of our home fans. The Race of Champions has been successful in other countries in the past and now, coming to Germany at a special time with Sebastian winning the world championship, it is the perfect way to celebrate the end of the season. It is a perfect set-up here and I think it will be a very special event. Of course, Sebastian and I will try to get some more silverware for Team Germany - that is a big motivation for us. We want to give the fans a good show; we have won the ROC Nations Cup three times already so naturally we hope for number four this weekend.”

Carl Edwards: “I am very excited to be here and hopefully we can do well for Team USA in the ROC Nations Cup, as well as for myself in The Race of Champions on Sunday. It’s an honor to be here and I am looking forward to it. I reached the semi-finals of The Race of Champions back in 2008 when I beat a certain guy called Schumacher in the quarter-finals - that was a big day for me. I really enjoyed that and I hope it happens again. Practice went well today so you never know.”

Mick Doohan: “I really enjoy The Race of Champions and I have been lucky enough that they keep inviting me back. I only race cars two times a year which is not a lot compared to the other guys here who are driving week in, week out. It is a real pleasure for me to be here competing with guys who are at the top of their game and I will try my best.”

Travis Pastrana: “The first time I ever really drove a WRC car was at The Race of Champions and I was up against Markus Grönholm. I was down a couple of seconds and tried to make it all up in one corner - it didn’t work because I ended up having my first big crash in a rally car! But I have had some more enjoyable moments and in 2006 I had a really good run to finish second in the ROC Nations Cup. Team Germany keeps beating everyone so with this event being in their home country I am really excited about beating those guys!”

Jason Plato: “It is great to be back here at The Race of Champions. It’s going to be fun and the trophy looks nice - I can certainly find a place for one like that at home! It is a big incentive to look at the drivers assembled here; they are the greatest in the world and it is really a pleasure for me to be alongside them. If Team GB can get to the same level as these legends it will be a big day for me.”

Tanner Foust: “This is my third Race of Champions and it’s amazing to come back again. I am looking forward to another shot at it. The trick to this event is to get all the cars to suit you. During your short practice sessions you don’t have a lot of time with each car so you need to remember exactly where the braking point is at each corner. Practice was tricky earlier because there isn’t much rubber down so it is quite slippery but that should change tomorrow.”

11/26/10 The opening practice session for The Race of Champions this weekend at the ESPRIT arena in Düsseldorf took place earlier today with the first group of drivers enjoying their first experience of the unique parallel track.

Alain Prost, Heikki Kovalainen, Tom Kristensen, Andy Priaulx, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Alvaro Parente and Bertrand Baguette tried out a variety of cars, including the awesome Audi R8 LMS, the ROC car and FJ Racecar.

This first group of drivers held a press conference directly after the session to give their impressions of the event, the cars and the track. Here are their comments:

Alain Prost: “To be here today is very nice for me. Obviously I am enjoying the experience because I am here with all these guys in the same cars and the same conditions, but it’s also tough. It is hard to get the right feeling and the right driving position in all the cars so I have to adapt my style. It is my first time at the Race of Champions so I know it is not going to be easy, but the most important thing for me is to have fun.”

Heikki Kovalainen: “I have good memories of The Race of Champions having won the event in 2004. For the last couple of years I have not been here but this year I had the opportunity so it is good to compete again and I am looking forward to the weekend. There are a lot of good drivers here so it is going to be tough but let’s see what I can do together with Tom in the ROC Nations Cup for Team Nordic.”

Tom Kristensen: “I think Team Nordic can go very far - Heikki has a very good record in this event. I would like to be in the final and do better than when I was against Sébastien Loeb in the 2005 Race of Champions final at the Stade de France, when I crashed out. It would be nice to have a good result because this is a great event with a great atmosphere. We have a lot more cars this year and it will be a great challenge to be tapped on the shoulder five minutes before your race and told only then which car you have to drive.”

Andy Priaulx: “It’s great to have Jason Plato on board as part of Team GB; I think he will be very exciting both on and off the track! I am missing Jenson Button, who was my Team GB team-mate last year because he was great fun last year and we were getting faster and faster. Hopefully, fingers crossed, Jason will be really quick and we will have good fun.”

Jeroen Bleekemolen: “I have to say all the cars are nice to drive and all the people involved have put in a lot of effort to make the cars run well, with not too much understeer or oversteer. Practice was a good experience this afternoon and I am sure it will only get better.”

Alvaro Parente: “It is great to have the opportunity to be here after the good time I had winning ROC South Europe for Team Portugal with Filipe Albuquerque. It is fantastic to race against all these great drivers. I hope we can repeat what we did in Portugal but it will be difficult as these cars are very different to the single-seaters I am used to. You have to adapt fast to every car so it is a big challenge.”

Bertrand Baguette: “First of all I want to say thanks to all the Belgian fans who voted for me to be here in The Race of Champions and representing Team Benelux in the ROC Nations Cup. I am very proud and happy to be here driving against a lot of good drivers - it is very important for me to be here.”

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