2014 Race of Champions Preview: High-speed fun in the sun

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After a one-year absence, the Race of Champions returns with its 26th running this weekend in sunny Barbados.

Due to political turmoil in Thailand, the 2013 event that was slated to take place there was cancelled. But now, Lotus F1 pilot Romain Grosjean will finally have his chance to defend the “Champion of Champions” title he earned in the 2012 edition.

Standing in his way is a stellar group of competitors that includes nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, former F1 standout David Coulthard, V8 Supercar champ Jamie Whincup, and motorcycle icon Mick Doohan.

Several familiar Americans are also in the hunt, including Indianapolis 500 champion and Verizon IndyCar Series star Ryan Hunter-Reay, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, and off-road star and former NASCAR/IndyCar racer Robby Gordon.

With the competitions set to begin tomorrow, here’s a preview of what to look forward to. And last but not least, a TV note for you: NBCSN will carry a highlights show from this year’s ROC on Dec. 18 (this coming Thursday) at 7 p.m. ET.

THE TRACK

Barbados’ Bushy Park Circuit was the site for the 2014 season opener in Red Bull Global Rallycross, and this weekend, it will be home to the Race of Champions. The 1.4-mile ROC course features two, 21-foot-wide parallel tracks and a crossover bridge.

You can get a driver’s view of the circuit in this on-board video featuring Tom Kristensen in a KTM X-Bow, one of the cars that will be used in the competition (more on those below):

THE CARS

A big draw for the ROC is the fact that the drivers compete in a variety of different machines. This year, there are seven different types of cars including the aforementioned X-Bow, an Audi R8 LMS, a Stadium Super Truck, a NASCAR Whelen Euro Series stock car, a Volkswagen Polo RX, an Ariel Atom Cup, and the ROC Car.

Some facts and figures regarding the cars:

  • Among the ROC 2014 cars, the VW Polo RX is the fastest to go from 0-100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) at 1.9 seconds – faster than a Formula 1 car.
  • The average 0-100kph time of the ROC 2014 cars is 3.1 seconds.
  • The Audi R8 LMS is the fastest overall of the ROC 2014 cars with a top speed of 290kph (180 mph).

THE COMPETITIONS

ROC NATIONS CUP

The weekend begins on Saturday with the ROC Nations Cup, where drivers team up with their countrymen in pairs and compete in a round-robin group stage. The top two teams from each group will move on to the knockout stage (semifinals and finals).

Each driver on a team initially has one race against a driver from the opposing team. Should the score be tied at 1-1, the winning drivers will hold a tiebreaker race to determine which team comes out on top.

The Nations Cup groups are as follows:

Group A

  • Team France (Esteban Ocon & Romain Grosjean)
  • Team Nordic (Tom Kristensen & Petter Solberg)
  • Team Americas (Robby Gordon & José Maria Lopez)
  • Team Young Stars (Jolyon Palmer & Pascal Wehrlein)

Group B

  • Team Australia (Mick Doohan & Jamie Whincup)
  • Team Scotland (Susie Wolff & David Coulthard)
  • Team Barbados (Dane Skeete & Rhett Watson)
  • Team USA (Ryan Hunter-Reay & Kurt Busch)

ROC CARIBBEAN

Also on Saturday is a Caribbean-based competition that will propel two drivers into the Race of Champions on Sunday. Teams from Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, and Guyana will compete.

The Barbados driver with the fastest time in the ROC Caribbean group stage in the same car will qualify for Sunday’s main event, as will the fastest driver in the group stage in the same car from among the three other Caribbean teams.

Those squads include the aforementioned Dane Skeete and Rhett Watson from Barbados as well as:

  • Team Jamaica (Doug Gore & Jeffrey Panton)
  • Team Guyana (Kristian Jeffrey & Mark Vieira)
  • Team Trinidad & Tobago (Franklyn Boodram & David Coelho)

RACE OF CHAMPIONS

Sunday’s big competition will begin with a round-robin group stage again, from which the top two drivers from each group will advance to the knockout rounds. Take a look at the group draw, and you’ll see that many intriguing battles lie ahead on the Bushy Park circuit:

Group A

  • Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 driver and reigning ROC Champion of Champions
  • Jamie Whincup, six-time and reigning V8 Supercar Champion
  • David Coulthard, 13-time F1 Grand Prix winner
  • Mick Doohan, five-time MotoGP World Champion, 500cc

Group B

  • Petter Solberg, reigning FIA World Rallycross Champion
  • Kurt Busch, 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion
  • Susie Wolff, Williams F1 official test driver
  • Fastest Team Barbados driver from ROC Caribbean

Group C

  • José-Maria Lopez, reigning FIA World Touring Car Champion
  • Robby Gordon, three-time Baja 1000 winner and former NASCAR/IndyCar racer
  • Fastest ROC Caribbean driver from the other teams
  • Esteban Ocon, reigning FIA European F3 Champion

Group D

  • Tom Kristensen, nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay, reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and 2012 IndyCar Series Champion
  • Jolyon Palmer, reigning FIA GP2 Series Champion
  • Pascal Wehrlein, Mercedes F1 reserve driver

Meyer Shank Racing wins second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona to begin GTP era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Grand Touring Prototype era began just as the previous one ended as Meyer Shank Racing’s Acura captured its second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona with star Tom Blomqvist emphatically starting and finishing the race.

The No. 60 ARX-06 won the 24-hour endurance classic at Daytona International Speedway by 4.190 seconds over Filipe Albuquerque of Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport, giving Acura a sweep of the top two spots.

The Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh cars took the next two spots with Renger van der Zande (the No. 01) and Earl Bamber (No. 02) as four of the nine new GTP cars finished on the lead lap within 12 seconds of each other and four more finished the race – quashing the prerace hand-wringing of mass failures for the highly technical cars in the debut of the hybrid prototype premier category.

“Amazed is the right word,” Honda Performance Development president David Salters said when asked about reliability. “These are sophisticated cars. It’s not easy. It’s a testament to each group that they did a really good job. It was a fight all the way through the race. I didn’t expect that at all.”

There were major problems for the manufacturer newcomers Porsche Penske Motorsport and BMW M Team RLL, whose two pairs of cars all finished at least a dozen laps down or more because of major mechanical problems in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener.

But there were no such failures for Acura despite the manufacturer skipping any endurance testing with the new LMDh car. Salters said his

It’s the third Rolex 24 at Daytona victory for co-owner Mike Shank, who won his first in 2012.

Just as he capped the 2022 season by winning the Petit Le Mans season finale in the No. 60 Acura to clinch the final championship of the DPi division for MSR, Blomqvist was behind the wheel again for his third overall victory in IMSA.

“That was crazy,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “I knew we had a fantastic car. I’ve been working hard. Unbelievable. Massive, well done, everyone being part of this project and worked together on this project. What a car we’ve built.

“I was just a bit nervous. The 10 was definitely second fastest car, but we held them off.”

It was the second consecutive Rolex 24 victory for MSR’s trio of Blomqvist, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves, who were joined this year by Colin Braun (winning his first Rolex 24 overall).

Castroneves joined select company in winning the Rolex 24 in three consecutive years (his first win was with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2021 — also in an Acura, which now has three consecutive Rolex 24s). Peter Gregg won the Rolex 24 in 1973, ’75 and ’76 (the 1974 race wasn’t held because of the oil crisis).

Castroneves and Pagenaud are entering their second consecutive year as teammates for Meyer Shank Racing’s Dallara-Hondas in the NTT IndyCar Series.

“Can you believe that?” Castroneves told Lee. “Big props to everyone. Everyone did an amazing job. Everybody worked so hard together. We got it! Another one. I can’t believe it. This is absolutely a dream come true.”

The four-time Indy 500 winner led the team in his signature fence-climbing celebration afterward — just as he had when he finished MSR’s victory in last year’s Rolex 24 and when he won the 2021 Indy 500 for the team.

“It’s always fun to climb the fence with Helio,” said Pagenaud, who drove the second-to-last stint before Blomqvist closed it out: “The competition as amazing. It was tough out there. So much fun. Hope you had as much fun as we had. I’m going to savor this one.”

Winners in other classes were the No. 55 ORECA 07 of Proton Competition (which triumphed on a last-lap pass by James Allen on Ben Hanley), WeatherTech Racing’s No. 79 Mercedes in GTD Pro, Heart of Racing’s No. 27 Aston Martin in GTD and AWA’s No. 17 in LMP3.