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Vettel wins first individual Race of Champions title in London

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LONDON – Sebastian Vettel has won his first individual Race of Champions title after beating Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen 2-0 in the final at London’s former Olympic Stadium.

Vettel battled past Petter Solberg, Nico Hulkenberg and David Coulthard before winning the final, adding the individual trophy to his six Nations Cup titles.

IndyCar racer Ryan-Hunter Reay was the first winner of the day in London, easing past Nations Cup teammate Jose Maria Lopez 2-0. However, he was knocked out in the last 16 by Andy Priaulx, who had also claimed the scalp of DTM champion Pascal Wehrlein earlier in the day en route to the quarter-finals.

ROC Factor winner Bradley Philpot caused an upset in the first round by dumping out five-time MotoGP champion Mick Doohan. Although his fairytale story ended at the next stage when he lost 2-0 to Alex Buncombe, making it so far nevertheless marked a major achievement for the racing instructor from Southampton, England.

Susie Wolff bid farewell to competitive motorsport after she lost 2-0 to defending champion David Coulthard in the last 16, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd after finishing her race. She was joined on the sidelines by F1 drivers Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean and Jenson Button who lost at the same stage to Nico Hulkenberg, Jason Plato and Felipe Massa respectively.

Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of winning a maiden Race of Champions individual title started in good fashion as he defeated Petter Solberg 2-0. Solberg’s teammate Tom Kristensen kept the flag flying for Team Nordic though as he defeated Formula E champion Nelson Piquet Jr. 2-0 to make the last eight.

Vettel faced off against Nations Cup teammate Hulkenberg in the first quarter-final, making it through 2-0. He was drawn up against Coulthard in the last four after the Scot beat Massa 2-0, but was taken to a decider in a tense fight to reach the final. A jump start saw Coulthard receive a five-second penalty, but Vettel managed to win with ease regardless, taking him into his maiden individual Race of Champions final.

In the bottom half of the draw, Saturday’s Nations Cup winners saw their hopes of following this up with individual success end as Plato lost 2-0 to Kristensen, while Priaulx – widely tipped as the man to beat – was dumped out by Buncombe in a decider.

Experience shone through in the battle of the endurance racers as Kristensen beat Buncombe 2-0 in the second semi-final, setting up a final showdown with Vettel. Buncombe may have fallen short, but it nevertheless marked an impressive Race of Champions debut for the Briton.

A good start for Vettel in the first heat set him up to edge out Kristensen by 0.5 seconds in the Radicals, putting him within one win of the title. An issue with Kristensen’s ROC buggy for the second heat forced the drivers to switch to the X-Bows, and after a 20 minute wait, the drivers lined up for the second heat.

Both made a clean getaway, but a mistake from Kristensen at the first corner saw him hit the barrier. Although he was able to continue, the time lost as not recoverable, allowing Vettel to take a second win and clinch his first individual Race of Champions title.

“Of course I’m very happy and honored to win, but that took a while!” Vettel said after the final. “A lot of world class racing drivers have won this trophy. I’ve tried to win this many times and failed many times but finally I’ve succeeded.

“What the Race Of Champions gives us is a lot of joy. When we were kids starting to race, we did it for pure joy and this sort of event is a good reminder of that. When you close the visor, ultimately victory is still what drives you.

“But I’ve tried to win this so many times, today was more like a surprise. We all know this format is very difficult because no one gets much time in the cars so you need to find your rhythm quickly.

“Today I had the feeling I found it straightaway. It was very cold but it was a great atmosphere so thank you very much to everyone for coming to watch.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).