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