The Race of Champions returns for a second year to Dusseldorf’s ESPRIT Arena. As normal a glittering array of drivers representing race series around the world will compete for both The Nations Cup – on Saturday – before being pitted against each other in Sunday's individual contest.
The format remains the same – two 'laps' of a parallel track – with drivers tasting a range of machinery – often far out their normal comfort zone.
Most of the cars return from the 2010 editions, including the Audi R8 LMS, the buggies familiar to past ROC viewers and the KTM X-Bow. Predictably, however, it is the new for 2011 recruit Skoda Fabia S2000 rally car that has the attention of many drivers.
Juho Hanninen and Jan Kopecky – both Skoda drivers in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) are making their ROC debuts this year, and both admit to struggling outside of their four wheel drive charges.
Hanninen said during Friday's practice sessions; “the Skoda was clearly the best car for me today – all the rest were hard and it was difficult to get the rhythm. At least with the Skoda I was not the slowest! I was just joking with Jan KopeckÃ½ about how difficult it will be this weekend. We're not very familiar with these racing cars so it will at least be a lot of fun for the spectatorsâ€¦”
Multiple Nations Cup champions Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel reunite as Team Germany's first team – Timo Glock and DTM driver Timo Scheider forming the home nation's second team for Saturday's events.
“It was a great experience last year,” said Schumacher. “The atmosphere was wonderful. Naturally we are looking forward to doing it again. I've enjoyed reading the names on the ROC Nations Cup trophy and the target is to add another one. But that's not the only aim. The problem is that Saturday is so hard – particularly the driving, of course – that by Sunday you are out of energy. Let's see if it works out better this year.”
Last season the German pair beat British duo Andy Priaulx and Jason Plato in the final. Priaulx returns for 2011, with Jenson Button filling the other seat.
2010's shock individual ROC champion Filipe Albuquerque returns to defend his title. “When I won the Race Of Champions last year it was fantastic,” said the Portuguese, who will also form half of Team All-Stars in the Nations Cup event. “There were so many big names and to come here for the first time and beat them was just great. After this it was a really hard season in DTM but I've improved as a driver and learned a lot. So I hope I will keep up this momentum in the Race Of Champions and do well again this year. I think anyone can win it. The lesson learned from last year is to never underestimate anyone.”
“It's amazing to see so many fantastic drivers here from a variety of disciplines,” said Race Organiser Fredrik Johnsson. “From F1 to DTM to action sports. This year we have more new drivers than ever so it will be interesting to see how the new boys get on. Last year we saw Filipe Albuquerque come for the first time and beat the Formula 1 World Champion and the World Rally Champion to win the entire event so anything can happenâ€¦”
Full 2011 Race of Champions driver list:
Team Great Britain
Team Germany 2
Martin Tomczyk and Mattias Ekstrom will not compete in the Nations Cup, but will race in the individual event.