Team England 1’s Andy Priaulx and Jason Plato are celebrating after they took a stunning victory in the 2015 ROC Nations Cup in front of their home fans at London’s former Olympic Stadium.
On a bitterly cold evening in the British capital, legends from the world’s biggest motor sport series teamed up in pairs to battle for national and regional pride. They raced a mix of cars – including the Mercedes-AMG GT S, Ariel Atom Cup, Radical SR3 RSX, KTM X-Bow, ROC Car, Euro NASCAR, RX200 and RX150 – on a brand new Olympic cycling-style pursuit track.
And what an evening of action it was – as tin-top greats Priaulx and Plato prevailed in the final against the might of Team Germany. In the first heat Priaulx delighted the home fans as he beat off the challenge of four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel. Vettel’s fellow F1 star Nico Hülkenberg struck back by beating Jason Plato in the second heat but Priaulx was just too strong for this year’s Le Mans winner in the finale as they became the first English team ever to win the ROC Nations Cup final.
Afterwards a delighted Priaulx said: “I had a great night. Tonight it all just hooked up. Germany have won it a few times so it’s nice to have a turn – and nice for me to win a race for once! I’ve been to the ROC Nations Cup final three times so to do the job is great. This competition is tough and it gets tougher every year so you have to be on your A game here because every race is like a qualifying session. It’s so easy to make mistakes but I’m really chuffed. Thanks to Fredrik Johnsson and all the guys at ROC for bringing us here. It’s brilliant to get the chance to race in front of our home crowd in London – what more could we ask? But tomorrow is another day…”
Plato added: “I made a few mistakes tonight so Andy’s pushed me through it but it’s a fantastic feeling to win at home. Team Germany beat us in the final the last time we did it together so it’s actually an excellent rivalry. So this has to go down as one of the highlights of my career – to race against the calibre of these guys, who are the best in the world, and to have the positivity of racing in this venue. It can’t be underestimated what it means to race in front of your home crowds. We’re in an iconic stadium and you can hear them as you cross the line.”
Beaten finalists Team Germany also had a fine evening’s work, but they couldn’t quite add to the six ROC Nations Cup titles that Vettel won together with Michael Schumacher from 2007 to 2012.
Vettel said: “It hurts – a lot – but Andy drove fantastically tonight, so well done. They deserved to win and it’s especially nice in front of your home crowd. If you’re in the final you want to win but someone has to lose and unfortunately it was us today. We tried everything but it was their day so I’m also very happy for them. I had a lot of fun anyway and I’m looking forward to tonight. The nice thing about this event is that it’s an opportunity for us to hang out with other drivers and a lot of them have become friends over the years. So thanks to everyone for coming out, it’s very cold but a great night.”
Hülkenberg added: “In the final I was struggling with the back end of the car so I was getting sideways but Andy was on great form and did a great job. So congratulations to them. To lose in the final does bother me. This is a fun event, but if you get so far you want to do it. Still, I’ve really enjoyed my first taste of this event here today. Now I’m already looking forward to tomorrow when I’ll get another try. Overall I’ve had a blast and I’m sure tomorrow will be even better. Thanks to the fans who came out tonight, I know it’s really cold out there…”
Last year’s ROC Nations Cup winners Team Nordic (Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg) had another great run, making it through to the semi-final before they were beaten in straight heats by Team Germany. But they didn’t go down without a fight, with both of them missing out by just fractions of a second.
The other semi-final went to a decisive third heat before Team England 1 beat Team England 2 pair Jenson Button and Alex Buncombe. After Priaulx beat Buncombe, F1 world champion Button hit back with victory over Plato. But Priaulx was too strong in the decider to take the tin-top duo into the final.
Vettel earlier won out in the battle of the ex-Red Bull team-mates, defeating Daniel Ricciardo (pictured above) as Team Germany saw off Team Australia in the quarter-finals. Motorbike legend Mick Doohan lost out to Hülkenberg in the other heat.
The might of Team Americas (José Maria López and Ryan Hunter-Reay) were one of the early casualties, defeated in the quarter-finals by Team Nordic. But it was a close encounter as Hunter-Reay lost out to Kristensen in the last heat of the best-of-three play-off by just a tenth of a second.
There was no joy for last year’s finalists Team Scotland in the battle of the home nations as they were beaten by Team England 2 in the quarter-finals. Susie Wolff lost out to Buncombe before Button beat David Coulthard by the even closer margin of five thousandths of a second…
Team England 1 again had Priaulx to thank as they joined their compatriots in the semi-finals with victory over Team Young Stars. The Guernseyman beat last year’s individual finalist Pascal Wehrlein in the first heat. Jolyon Palmer then hit back with victory over Plato before Priaulx prevailed in the decider.
On a night of match-ups between huge stars of world motor sport, many superstars fell by the wayside in earlier rounds. Team Brazil’s Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet Jr were defeated by Team England 1’s Plato and Priaulx in the evening’s very first encounter. They were joined in the drivers lounge soon afterwards by Team All Stars, made up of F1’s Romain Grosjean and Olympic cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy, who was drafted in yesterday to replace the injured MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo. They still took Team Young Stars to the deciding heat before being knocked out.
Earlier in the evening, a host of famous sportsmen and international stars took to the track for the inaugural ROC Celebrity Skills Challenge presented by TAG Heuer. The competition was won by Hoy as the quickest celebrity around a course specially designed to test a range of driving skills and tricks.
There is plenty more action to come in London on Saturday as the drivers put their regional friendships aside and go it alone in the individual Race Of Champions. All the action starts at 3pm UK time and tickets will be available on the door.
For access to rights-free high-resolution imagery and to keep up with all the latest news ahead of this year’s event please visit www.raceofchampions.com, Race Of Champions on Facebook plus @raceofchampions and #ROCLondon on Twitter.
Full draw for tomorrow’s Race Of Champions
- José Maria López v Ryan Hunter-Reay – Match A
- Pascal Wehrlein v Andy Priaulx – Match B
- Mick Doohan v Bradley Philpot (ROC Factor winner) – Match C
- Alex Buncombe v Jolyon Palmer – Match D
- Sebastian Vettel v Petter Solberg
- Daniel Ricciardo v Nico Hülkenberg
- Jenson Button v Felipe Massa
- David Coulthard v Susie Wolff
- Tom Kristensen v Nelson Piquet Jr
- Romain Grosjean v Jason Plato
- Winner Match A (López/Hunter-Reay) v Winner Match B (Wehrlein/Priaulx)
- Winner Match C (Doohan/Philpot) v Winner Match D (Buncombe/Palmer)
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