LONDON – England has won its first Race of Champions Nations Cup on home soil after touring car drivers Andy Priaulx and Jason Plato defeated Formula 1 stars Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg 2-1 in the final.
Priaulx and Plato fought all the way through from the first round to lift the trophy, delighting 16,000 home fans on a cold night at the former Olympic Stadium in London.
The Race of Champions pits drivers from a number of different championships up against each other in a series of challenges, using cars such as the Mercedes AMG GT, a Euro NASCAR and KTM X-Bows.
The opening preliminary round saw Plato and Priaulx in Team England 1 knock out Team Brazil’s Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet Jr., while Team Young Stars of Jolyon Palmer and Pascal Wehrlein also made it through to the quarter-finals after beating Team All-Stars in a decider.
In the first quarter-final, IndyCar driver Ryan Hunter-Reay defeated World RX champion Petter Solberg for Team Americas, but was edged out by just one-tenth of a second in the decider to nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, sending Team Americas out at the hands of Team Nordic 2-1 following Jose Maria Lopez’s loss.
Former Red Bull teammates Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo renewed their rivalry when Team Germany faced Team Australia, with Vettel taking the bragging rights by half a second. Nico Hulkenberg followed Vettel’s lead, beating motorcycle racing legend Mick Doohan to send Germany into the semi-finals.
Not wishing to be outdone by the first England team, 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button and Blancpain GT driver Alex Buncombe beat David Coulthard and Susie Wolff of Team Scotland 2-0. Button’s victory over Coulthard was by just 0.005 seconds, but was enough to take Team England 2 through.
The final quarter-final pitted the two round one-winning teams up against each other, with Team England 1 winning in a decider after Priaulx edged out Palmer by just two-tenths of a second, setting up an all-English semi-final.
Defending Nations Cup champions Team Nordic’s title defence ended in the semi-finals as Vettel and Hulkenberg both won their races for Team Germany, defeating Kristensen and Solberg to move into the final. They were joined by the touring car duo of Plato and Priaulx, with the latter winning the decider.
In the first final shoot-out, Priaulx produced two perfect laps to beat Vettel and take England 1-0 up, only for a mistake by Plato in the second heat to allow Hulkenberg to level the score, taking the Race of Champions Nations Cup to a decider.
Priaulx once again was on form, eking out a lead over Hulkenberg in the first lap despite clouting the first kerb. He managed to extend this on the final tour of the course, giving him a one-second margin of victory to secure the Nations Cup for England.
“Tonight it all just hooked up,” Priaulx said. “Germany have won it a few times so it’s nice to have a turn – and nice for me to win a race for once!
“I’ve been to the ROC Nations Cup final three times so to do the job is great. This competition is tough and it gets tougher every year so you have to be on your A-game here because every race is like a qualifying session. It’s so easy to make mistakes but I’m really chuffed.
“Thanks to Fredrik Johnsson and all the guys at ROC for bringing us here. It’s brilliant to get the chance to race in front of our home crowd in London – what more could we ask?”
Vettel had been chasing a seventh Nations Cup title in London, but was gracious in defeat.
“It hurts – a lot – but Andy drove fantastically tonight, so well done,” Vettel said. “They deserved to win and it’s especially nice in front of your home crowd. If you’re in the final you want to win but someone has to lose and unfortunately it was us today.
“We tried everything but it was their day so I’m also very happy for them. I had a lot of fun anyway and I’m looking forward to tonight. The nice thing about this event is that it’s an opportunity for us to hang out with other drivers and a lot of them have become friends over the years. So thanks to everyone for coming out, it’s very cold but a great night.”