For the first time in its history, the Race of Champions took place on a snow/ice track. Also for the first time, a father/son duo won the Nations Cup.
Saturday’s battle of the nationalities in Sweden saw the triumph of a fellow Nordic team as Team Norway‘s Petter Solberg and his son Oliver Solberg took victory in the Nations Cup. The two defeated Team USA‘s Jimmie Johnson and Colton Herta in the final. Petter beat Johnson after the latter’s Polaris RZR PRO XP suffered mechanical trouble, followed by Oliver triumphing over Herta; although Johnson was able to get a win against Oliver, the older Solberg finished the deal by beating Herta for the 3–1 series win. The win is Petter’s second in the Nations Cup after claiming the 2014 Cup for Team Nordic alongside Tom Kristensen, while Oliver wins in his maiden ROC.
“I got my motivation when I saw Sébastien Loeb winning the Monte Carlo Rally last month and I thought, ‘It can’t be so difficult,'” commented Petter. “I was so ready for this race, and to do it together with Oliver is a big dream.
“The Race of Champions has been so special for many years. It’s so much fun to be with all these guys: everyone has had so much success in their careers yet they are so friendly. Oliver has been flying around like a yo-yo all week because he’s been so excited. When you are 20, that’s how it is.”
Team USA, which featured an all-IndyCar lineup, kicked off the Nations Cup by edging out another IndyCar driver in Hélio Castroneves and his Latin American team-mate Benito Guerra Jr.; the teams split the series 2–2, but USA had the faster overall time. Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion with off-road experience in his early career, and Herta then took down fan favourite Team Germany‘s Formula One duo Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher in the same fashion in the quarter-final. Germany had advanced after staving off a challenge from Team eROC All Stars‘ Lucas Blakeley and Jarno Opmeer, the former beating Vettel in a stunning upset but it was not enough to pull off the victory as they fell 3–1.
“Our original goal was not to get knocked out in the first round, so when we won that we were jumping up and down and celebrating like we’d won the whole thing,” Herta remarked. He was making his ROC début as a substitute driver after Travis Pastrana got hurt in a BASE jumping accident. “Certainly, nobody could have thought we’d make it to the final. But we had a plan, we stuck to it and here we are.”
Johnson, who won the 2002 Nations Cup, opined, “The Race of Champions is such a special event because you switch between different cars, so no one is very comfortable. You have to forget the experience and try to tackle what’s in front of you. On the start line, I tried not to think about who I was racing, I just tried to stay within my means, be smart and drive the car. If you get through the rounds you have a chance to go up against amazing guys, and to see names like Vettel and Schumacher is mind blowing.”
Team Great Britain vs. Team Finland saw the former’s David Coulthard and Jamie Chadwick and the latter’s Mika Häkkinen and Emma Kimiläinen all win a race each to force another 2–2 deadlock that was broken by Finland. Another major European nation that fell to a Scandinavian power came when Team France’s Loeb and Didier Auriol lost 3–1 to Team Nordic’s Kristensen and Johan Kristoffersson.
Norway’s trip to the final was marked by battles with fellow Nordic teams. After defeating Sweden’s 3–1 in the quarter-final, the Solbergs staved off a challenge from Team Nordic via a 2–2 tiebreaker. Finland lost to USA 3–1.
“I’m shocked because doing this together as father and son is very emotional,” commented Oliver Solberg. “We had fantastic teamwork and it shows we work well together. It’s been a dream come true to come to the Race of Champions with all the legends who I look up to, like Jimmie. There are so many stars here and so much experience to take in. They’re all so humble and nice to me so it’s been a fun time, then when we come to the track it’s serious.”
An overnight tidal surge and flooding resulted in only the inside circuit of the Pite Havsbad track being used.
“The conditions out there were hard for everybody today, but the race organisers did a brilliant job to find a solution,” said Petter Solberg. “On the snow, you get a slushy feeling, like floating, so it’s about not making mistakes.
“I was nervous about racing with Oliver but when you can do something like this with your son and see the happiness when he does well, it’s great. He did a very good job, and actually raced better than me. But by the final I was really pumped up. Jimmie’s run in the Porsche was very impressive and I knew I had to be at my best to beat these guys, but we did it.”
The individual tournament will take place on Sunday. Petter finished second to Coulthard in 2018, while Guerra is the defending in-person winner in 2019.