In his first Race of Champions event, Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya beat veteran Tom Kristensen 2-0 in the final to cement his maiden Champion of Champions trophy. Montoya inherits the crown from Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel who was knocked out early in the group stages.
With many of the younger competitors knocked out early on, and the semi-final contested between four retired or semi-retired drivers, it was clear that experience was key for many of the front-runners. Montoya himself has famously competed in not just F1 and IndyCar, but also NASCAR and LM Prototypes, winning the Rolex 24 Hours three times.
Kristensen was going to be no lightweight though, having finished runner-up in the ROC on four previous occasions, he didn’t want to extend his record any further after a career which included nine 24 Hours of Le Mans wins.
The first race between the two giants of the motorsport world was a close affair, as Montoya narrowly led his rival over the line. Kristensen was keen to hit back but ran slightly wide in the first turn, drifting the back-end of his KTM X-Bow. This was enough to seal his fate as the double-crown winner out-dragged the Dane over the line for his maiden Champion of Champions title by 0.084s.
After the race, Montoya commented; “It’s not our job, it’s a fun event. But when you go to the grid you want to warm the tyres and the brakes. You think about how to drop the clutch, what to do in the first corner. It’s unbelievable how focused you are. It’s like qualifying.”
“I don’t know what gave me the edge. I don’t have pride, I just kept asking people what they were doing. That way I kept adding things to the database of what I needed to do.”
15,000 people attended the event at the Marlins Park Baseball Stadium that celebrates the best in motorsport around the world. After Alexander Rossi defeated Scott Speed in the preliminary event, 16 drivers from four groups gathered for the annual showdown.
The biggest shock came from Group A in which defending title holder Vettel lost to Helio Castroneves and Group winner Travis Pastrana. This put him and Rossi out in early stages as their rivals progressed.
Group B was more down to earth though as Felipe Massa and Montoya took two wins a piece. Massa would progress as the winner due to his win over the Colombian, though it was his heat with Pascal Wehrlein that drew attention after a spectacular crash.
In typical fashion Massa and Wehrlein set up another spectacular drive to the line, though the German seemed unaware of the right side of his car, collecting the barrier and veering into the side of the Brazilian before flipping his three wheel vehicle. He walked away, but was subsequently knocked out along with Petter Solberg.
The British success came in Group C, where Jenson Button won all his races to progress with a perfect record along with Kyle Busch. Sadly for Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe, it was a fairly dull affair as they prepare for the Nations Cup.
Finally there was Group D in which David Coulthard, the 2013 champion, also progressed with a clean sweep. Even beating ROC rival Kristensen, who settled for second. Ultimately, this put the remaining two Americans; Kurt Busch and Ryan Hunter-Reay out of the competition.
The quarter-finals would throw a number of upsets as Montoya trounced home favourite Pastrana and Button lost a tight three-race heat with Kristensen. With Coulthard and Massa also progressing all eyes were on the second Semi-Final that featured the Le Mans legend and 13-time F1 race winner Coulthard.
Despite the Scot’s best attempt, it was a straight 2-0 win for Kristensen who instantly became the new man to beat. Just prior, Montoya has beaten fellow South American Massa, setting up the tantalising final in which the Colombian lifted the trophy.
At 41 years old, Montoya thus becomes the competitions oldest champion since Didier Auriol won his fourth and final ROC in 1999.
ROC Miami continues on Sunday with the Nations Cup under the guise of ‘America vs Rest of the World’. Despite the formats hype, no North American driver made it past the quarter-finals with four getting knocked out in the opening group stages. It will also be the first time the ROC Factor winners get to compete.