Ekstrom Makes It A Hat-trick of RoC Wins

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Mattias Ekstrom swept to his third Race of Champions title, beating Michael Schumacher in the best of three final.

The individual Race of Champions, following on from yesterday's Nations' Cup saw 16 drivers split into four groups, before being whittled down for the quarter- and semi-final rounds.

The first race of the final saw Schumacher, who had been in imperious form during both days of the even, only losing one race – yesterday, to Tanner Foust – up to this point, look favourite to add the individual garland to his triumph in the Nations' Cup.

At the half way distance of the race, using the familiar ROC Buggies, Schumacher had a half second lead and looked set to go one step closer to collecting the Henri Toivonen Memorial Trophy, named after the Finnish rally driver, who's name the original ROC was organised in.

However, Ekstrom was able to overturn the advantage and win by only 0.2 seconds, before sealing victory with a relatively comfortable (a whole 0.6 seconds) victory.

The Swede, who normally races an Audi in the DTM series, saw off his fellow four-ringer (and Team Scandanavia teammate) Tom Kristensen in the sudden death quarter final before beating Jenson Button to reach the final.

Schumacher had a more evenful route to the final. The German was one of several drivers to survive the initial group stages with a 100% record, before overcoming WRC driver Mikko Hirvonen in the quarter final to set up a semi-final with Sebastien Vettel, a race the seven-time World Champion won.

Vettel and Schumacher's meeting was just one of a number of face-offs between teammates from yesterday (and sponsor-mates in one case). Jenson Button saw off countryman Andy Priaulx, after the Touring Car driver's Ford Focus faltered off the start line the quarter finals, while Red Bull counterparts Vettel and David Coulthard met at the same level.

While such sponsorships were on show, and rivalries undoubtedly remained the event was held in its normal informal style. Kristensen poured a can of something (possibly Red Bull) over Ekstrom as he sat in his open cockpitted KTM X-Bow after his final win, while in the changing areas drivers sponsored by Red Bull and their energy drink rival Monster playfully squared off against each other.

Michael Schumacher jokingly (hopefully) described how the hangover from the night was fading, and everything was becoming straight. However, the best, and most public, illustration of the playful nature of the event was given by Sebastien Vettel.

Driving the X-Bows in his semi final race against Michael Schumacher, Vettel damaged the front suspension of the car, causing the steering to fail at the following corner his premature exit from the event. Faced with this Vettel, in mock disgust threw his driving gloves to the ground before both he and his passenger hitched rides on the sides of Schumacher's winning car back into the bowels of the Bird's Nest Stadium.

Vettel's off was one of many, as like yesterday the damage and mechanical gremlins mounted up through the event. Mick Doohan added to the damage bill for KTM by clouting the barrier on the final turn, manipulating the front right wheel into a jaunty angle. Travis Pastrana ran into the plastic barriers in the fleeting appearance of the VW Sciroccos as both Americans exited the evening's action early despite yesterday's promising showings.

Several drivers, including Chad Reed and Marcus Gronholm, complained of various cars suffering from gearbox problems, though there were no terminal failures.

However, the most damage was caused by Dakar driver Guerlain Chicherit. Driving the GM bodied Solution F Prototype he found the same wall Doohan did, with more spectacular results. The accident wiped off the rear bodywork of the space-framed car, destroying the entire rear axel assembly of the car, and leaving the scene of the accident very sheepishly.

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