Sebastien Ogier blew away the competition to win the Race of Champions at his first attempt in Dusseldorf.
The World Rally Championship ace destroyed Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen in the best of three final, first beating the Dane in the RoC buggies and then again in Audi R8 LMS cars.
“I'm so happy,” said Ogier. “It was a very nice weekend and it was already great to be in the final at my first time. There are a lot of cars to learn here and the track as well. But I didn't do too badly and I pushed hard all the way. Tom is a really good driver but to win this race is amazing.”
It became clear early in the afternoon that the event would see a first-time winner, after both 2010 champion and Filipe Albuquerque and multiple RoC winner Mattias Ekstrom crashed out in the group stages.
Albquerque lost out in Group A to Brits Andy Priaulx and David Coulthard who progressed to the knockout stages – with X Games superstar Travis Pastrana joining Albuquerque on the sidelines.
Ekstrom lost out in Group B, where he could only win one of his three races. Ekstrom's DTM teammate at Audi for the past 11 seasons Martin Tomczyk progressed at his expense, the German pilot and Ogier each taking two wins each. Jan Kopecky exited together with Ekstrom, despite the Czech driver gaining bragging rights over Ogier by beating him in the Skoda Fabia S2000s, a car that Ogier will compete in next year following his switch to Volkswagen in the WRC.
In Group C it was Formula 1 champions Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button who progressed as expected, with rally ace Juho Hanninen and US star Brian Deegan being knocked out.
Group D was by far the closest of the lot, with Sebastian Vettel, Kristensen and Romain Grosjean all being tied on two wins each after Kristensen defeated the double F1 champion in the final race in Skodas. Their quickest times would decide who went through, with Kristensen and Vettel's times in the Skodas being enough to knock the GP2 champion out. Vitaly Petrov finished up bottom of the group, though fortunately for him losing out to Grosjean here is unlikely to have much relevance in their battle over a Lotus F1 seat.
Despite there being three Brits in the quarter-finals, none of them would make it any further. Priaulx succumbed to Ogier in the Volkswagen Sciroccos, Coulthard was beaten by Tomczyk in the Skodas while Button couldn't compete with Kristensen in the RoC buggies.
The highlight of the quarter-finals though was the battle between Schumacher and Vettel, who had together taken a fifth consecutive Nations Cup win for Germany on Saturday. It would be the veteran who would knock out his younger compatriot to advance to the semis.
The first of the semis saw RoC rookies Ogier and Tomczyk go head-to head in Audi R8s, and it would be the Frenchman who would win out. It was perhaps a significant ending to Tomczyk's last competitive appearance behind the wheel of an Audi – losing out to new VAG recruit Ogier following the DTM champion's defection to the returning BMW for 2012.
The other semi-final pitted eight-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Kristensen against seven-time F1 champion Schumacher in KTM X-Bows. Schumacher looked to have his place in the final wrapped up as the checkered flag was waved, but Kristensen came from behind to beat the German at the line by just 0.0175 seconds.
Despite missing out on the big prize again after coming runner-up in the Nation's Cup the day before, Kristensen was pleased with his day's work.
“Sebastien is a very deserved winner,” said Kristensen. “He had the edge on cold tyres, especially in the ROC car. But beating both Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher was a really big achievement for me today, particularly in Germany. It's almost better than Christmas!”