29th Race of Champions to be held for first time in Middle East, Montoya defending winner

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This may be Super Bowl weekend in the U.S., but there’s a different kind of Super Bowl taking place for the first time ever in the Middle East.

The 29th Race of Champions takes place Friday and Saturday at King Fahd International Stadium in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.

The ROC features drivers from a number of different motorsports series driving identical and equally prepared race cars on ractracks that are typically constructed inside stadiums.

Other stadiums that have played host to the event in recent years include Marlins Stadium in Miami last year; the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium in Beijing; London’s Wembley Stadium and the Stade de France in Paris, among several others.

Both IMSA and IndyCar will be well-represented in the 20-driver field. Among key drivers to keep an eye on:

  • The U.S. will be represented by defending Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay, participating in his fifth ROC.
  • Latin America will be represented by Helio Castroneves and defending ROC champion Juan Pablo Montoya, who won last year’s event in Miami.
  • Montoya is coming off a 10th-place finish in last weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, while Castroneves was part of the ninth-place finishing team, both for the new Acura Team Penske group.
  • This will be both Montoya’s and Castroneves’ second appearance in the ROC.
  • The United Kingdom will be represented by David Coulthard and Lando Norris.
  • Mexico will be represented by Memo Rojas and Abraham Calderon.
  • There’s even a driver from the Sim Racing world, who has done most of his racing on a computer than an actual race car, Rudy van Buren.

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)