RoC: Vettel beaten by Loeb in snowy Race of Champions final

France’s world rally legend Sébastien Loeb put in a stunning performance to eclipse 17 fellow superstars of motorsport and win the 2022 Race Of Champions – 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 head-to-head on ROC’s iconic parallel track, purpose built on ice for the first time. After an unprecedented tidal surge saw yesterday’s racing take place on just the inner half of the track, today the drivers could let rip on the full circuit featuring ROC’s famous crossover bridge.

On an afternoon of heavy snow at Pite Havsbad, the Race Of Champions saw greats of global motorsport battling it out for glory in a mix of identical machinery – including the FIA RX2e electric rallycross car, Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport, off-road Polaris RZR PRO XP and the 100% fossil-free biofuel powered SuperCar Lites.

In front of packed crowds of Swedish fans braving the cold, the best-of-five Grand Final boiled down to a duel between a pair of true legends: nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb and four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel.

After a thrilling finale as both drivers pushed to the limit in the blizzard, Loeb saw off his German rival by three heats to one to be crowned ROC Champion of Champions for the fourth time. He thus equals the all-time record set by Didier Auriol, his partner for Team France in yesterday’s ROC Nations Cup.

To reach the Grand Final Loeb and Vettel 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 best-of-three semi-final stage Vettel beat nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen 2-0 to take bragging rights in the racing drivers’ half of the draw, though the Dane was hampered by a mechanical problem in the first heat.

On the rally side, Loeb finished on top of the pile having brought an end to a spirited run by double DTM Champion and FIA World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekström, who was the last Swedish driver standing in front of his home fans. The match went to a deciding third heat, won by the Frenchman.

The quarter-finals, which were decided over two heats, saw many big names bite the dust – not least seven-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, who lost to Kristensen. IndyCar’s youngest ever race winner Colton Herta was the other racing driver who went out, beaten by Vettel on countback of fastest times after a 1-1 tie.

On the rally side Loeb saw off rising WRC star Oliver Solberg after a match in which one of their races finished in a dead heat, to the nearest thousandth of a second. The other driver exiting at this stage was four-time FIA World Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson, who lost to Ekström despite winning their first race heat by just one hundredth of a second.

Vettel and Loeb after finale

And of 16 was another graveyard for motorsport’s superstars. In the racing half of the draw, double F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen went out at the hands of Johnson while his long-time McLaren F1 team-mate David Coulthard was defeated by Kristensen. Double W Series Champion Jamie Chadwick and this year’s W Series runner-up Emma Kimilainen also left the competition at this stage, beaten by Herta and Vettel respectively.

The rally side of the draw was just as brutal. FIA World Rally and World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg couldn’t find a way past Loeb so there was to be no repeat of yesterday’s ROC Nations Cup glory. His fellow World Rallycross Champion Timmy Hansen had to accept defeat by Kristoffersson after crashing out, while four-time ROC Champion of Champions Didier Auriol fell to Ekström. Mexico’s reigning ROC Champion of Champions Benito Guerra was another of the early casualties after being beaten by Oliver Solberg.

Kicking off the afternoon’s action, four of the racing drivers were matched up in pairs for two Round 1 play-offs. Germany’s FIA F2 and F3 Champion Mick Schumacher was defeated by Chadwick while four-time Indy 500 Winner Helio Castroneves also had to bid an early goodbye after falling to Herta. The Brazilian ace was later seen relaxing in style in the ROC Drivers’ Lounge after declaring he and snow ‘don’t mix’.

Ahead of the main action, the home fans were given a treat as four sporting legends took place in a celebrity race in the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. The field featured tennis great Jonas Björkman plus Olympic skiing gold medallists Ingemar Stenmark, Anja Pärson and Aksel Lund Svindal, who was the only Norwegian taking on three Swedes on their home turf. In the end it was Lund Svindal who came out on top, beating Stenmark in the final by just 0.8 seconds. The skiing great thus added to his home country’s amazing run of success here this weekend following Petter and Oliver Solberg’s triumph for Team Norway in the ROC Nations Cup yesterday.

This year’s Race Of Champions has raised over 1 million SEK (€100,000) 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.

Today’s action at Pite Havsbad marks the end of ROC Sweden for 2022. We hope you enjoyed this festival of motor sport and entertainment on the snow and ice, and we look forward to welcoming you back for our next event.

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