MOTORSPORT

Race of Champions: Ekström is King of the North

Mattias Ekström beats Mick Schumacher, claiming ROC Champion of Champions status.

TopGear Reporter
February 1, 2023
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Race of Champions: Ekström is King of the North

If ever a decathlon of driving events existed on an Olympic scale, it would be the Race of Champions, attracting star-studded drivers from every discipline. Various cars… various disciplines. From Nascar, Indy Car, Formula 1, World Rally Championship and World Rally Cross bring the best talent. 

16 drivers, all paired in teams of two, represent their countries and go head-to-head in a knockout-style tournament, racing various vehicles across different terrain each year. This year, the event was held on the snow and ice in Pite Havsba, Sweden. All this sounds more like an episode of Game of Thrones with less blood and those weird-kissing-sibling relationships.

Names like Sebastian Vettel, Sebastien Loeb, Mick Schumacher, Travis Pastrana, Jamie Chadwick and Valtteri Bottas, Mr Le Mans, Tom Kristensen, Oliver Solberg and Mattias Ekström, to name a few. Recognize anyone here? Just joking… The idea of the event is that drivers swop between a range of different vehicles like the Polaris RZR, a supercar lite which is kind of like a Rally X 2 car, both of which run on biofuel, and then two EV cars being the Zeroid X1 and then the Cupra Urbanrebel concept car.

The race weekend is split between two days, with Saturday being reserved for the ROC Nations Cup, where countries compete against each other. Mick Schumacher and Sebastien Vettel for Team Germany, Tanner Foust and Travis Pastrana for Team America (not the movie), and so on. The winner takes home "Fastest Country in the World" bragging rights. Michael Schumacher and Sebastien Vettel hold the record, winning six times in total. Think of it as a type of world cup of driving. The next day is the big one, where the Race of Champions sets out to crown the king of all drivers.

The highlight of ROC Nations went to the semi-final heat between Team Norway, represented by Petter Solberg and Team Sweden, with Mattias Ekström after a close battle with nothing in at the halfway mark and an insanely exciting dash to the line with Ekström edging the victory by just 0.001 of a second. Are you not entertained? (In your Russel Crow voice from the movie Gladiator). Petter and his son, Oliver, would, however, get the ultimate taste of victory by winning the ROC Nations Cup.

The racing is challenging with the mix of the cars, track and changing conditions often favouring the Scandanavian drivers given that that's all they drive on. As a legal requirement, all drivers from certain countries need to take advanced driving lessons thanks to the treacherous road conditions in the winter. I'm convinced that drivers from these parts learn the Scandinavian flick in their mothers' wombs. 

Ultimately, it would come down to one final Mexican standoff between Mattias Ekström, who would take on Mick Schumacher in the finals. Who would blink first? That would be the Ice king who proved his worth, knocking Schumacher out in a nail-biting final and winning his fourth title in the event's history, proving that he's anything but a one-trick. Not sure what they put in the water in Sweden, but 'snow and ice' are his things.

Words: Brent vd Schyff

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