The German pairing of Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel continued their nation's streak of wins in the Race of Champions Nations Cup. The Formula One pairing beat the Touring Car based offering of Jason Plato and Andy Priaulx from Team Great Britain.
Both nations suffered stuttering starts in the group stages of the event. 2010 British Touring Car Champion Jason Plato lost out to Alvaro Parente in Great Britain's first race before Andy Priaulx began the fightback win a comfortable win over Parente's Team Portugal teammate Filipe Albuquerque.
Plato, meanwhile, made amends for his loss by beating Alain Prost in the first outing of the VW Scirocco racers. This despite the Briton not appearing (at least by the car's digital read out in the passenger window) to use any of the four horsepower boosts available in each 1.2km race.
The home nation's campaign – starting in the second pool of teams – got off to a better start with Michael Schumacher easily seeing off NASCAR driver Carl Edwards.
The other half of the Germany-US match-up was less straight forward.
Travis Pastrana's previous in Race of Champions competition – including a solo effort to take the US team to the final in 2006 – already has him a cult following, and an opening win against newly crowned F1 champion will only help that reputation. Once more it was the Sciroccos on track, but while Plato's earlier triumph was despite the horsepower boost, Pastrana's was because of it.
The American, who is aiming to step into the NASCAR ranks next year saved his final boost until the exit of the final corner, powering past in the outside lane to win by the tiniest fraction of a second. The Dusseldorf crowd, predictably fell silent – a typically and understandably animated Pastrana noting “there was not one person cheering at the end of that race” in an interview conducted in the change over area, somewhere in the bowels of the ESPRIT Arena.
Though ultimately the victors the German team – the home side for the first time in the Race of Champions – were far from imperious. Vettel lost out again, this time to Tanner Foust – one half of the All-Stars team. Even Schumacher – normally the master of the event behind the wheel of the fleet of buggies – lost out. His foe was Bertrand Baguette – the World Series by Renault, turned Indycar racer making his ROC debut.
After being voted into the Benelux team through a website the Belgian won all three of his group stage races, also beating Carl Edwards and Australian biking legend Mick Doohan – the second half of the all-stars line-up.
Sadly Baguette's run of victories ended in the semi-finals, where his and Jeroen Bleekemolen's Benelux side faced the Germans once more, only for Vettel and Schumacher to glide through 2-0 in the best of three knockout round.
It was the same story in the first semi-final, where Plato and Priaulx faced up to the French duo for a second time. The latter's progress had be in doubt in the group stages. They needed to rely on the convoluted tie-break (based on the fastest race times) to put them through ahead of the Nordic pairing of Heikki Kovalainen and Tom Kristensen after both teams ended the round robin with three wins apiece.
However, having lost both races against the British team in the group form was always against Loeb and Prost – especially with the same drivers lining up against each other. Plato reprised him victory over Prost in the VWs – despite briefly taking to two wheels over one of the kerbs on the track – before Priaulx beat Loeb in the Stock Cars to see Team GB into the final.
Great Britain versus Germany, a fixture Schumacher said “kicked a memory”, was always going to be a final to please the fans and after the first two races were split to produce a sudden death decider Andy Priaulx's pre-race attempt at psyching out Schumacher it was clear the drivers were also up for the latest chapter in the sporting rivalry.
Schumacher had beaten Plato, before Priaulx became the latest in an ever-increasing list to out pace Vettel. The two winners lined up for the final and Schumacher won clearly – something of an anti-climax to an evening's typically close racing.
“The moment I went out on to the track everyone stood up and went crazy,” said Vettel. “It was a really cool night for all the fans, as well as for Michael and myself to get so much support. It was extremely close in the first round and we thought we might get knocked out. But I was lucky I had Michael on my team. It was a fun experience and to win at home, the first time in many years that The Race of Champions has been held in Germany, is very special.”
The night was not without incident. Priaulx had been the first to draw automotive blood, damaging the front mounted radiators in the Porsche 911 – one of several cars new to the event – on one of the kerbs and leaving a welcoming line of fluids around the track.
Alvaro Parente, however, was the first to cause real damage, crashing his KTM X-Bow into the bridge in his race against Prost – a mistake the Portuguese put down to a puncture. But undoubtedly the greatest moment belonged to the woman instrumental in beginning the Race of Champions. Rally driver Michele Mouton has made a tradition of demonstrating her short wheelbase Audi Quattro at ROC events and Dusseldorf was no exception.
Just minutes after Jason Plato had bicycled the VW off the kerbs Mouton went the whole way, gracefully rolling the Quattro onto its roof to the delight of the crowd and the assembled driving talent watching on TVs in the change over area. Mouton and her (un)lucky passenger were unhurt in the incident which the driver put down to showmanship; “we didn’t have any accidents until now, so I had to make the show.”
The second part of the Race of Champions – the individual competition – starts at noon GMT tomorrow (Sunday 28 November)