Race of Champions

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden team up again in Race of Champions

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The Race of Champions announced Friday that past IndyCar champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden will reunite as teammates for the second straight year for the January 19-20 ROC in Mexico City.

Hunter-Reay (2012 IndyCar champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner)) and Newgarden (2017 IndyCar champ) are the most recent American drivers to win IndyCar championships. They will once again make up the Team USA entry in the event.

Josef Newgarden (Getty Images)

They will be joined by three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves (now racing in IMSA for Team Penske) and previously announced 2019 Harding Steinbrenner Racing IndyCar rookie and defending 2018 Indy Lights champion Pato O’Ward, who hails from Mexico.

Another Mexican native who should be a fan favorite is 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champ Daniel Suarez.

Other drivers already announced include Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel and sports car legend Tom Kristensen.

But perhaps one of the most notable entries likely to draw more spectators to the event in-person as well as those watching on TV is FIA Formula 3 champ Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher.

The ROC will take place inside the Foro Sol amphitheater, which abuts part of the annual F1 Mexican Grand Prix course at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Ryan Hunter-Reay (Getty Images)

All contestants will compete in several types of identically prepared vehicles.

The two-day event will be broken down into a team or region competition on Jan. 19.

Then all drivers will go head-to-head and on their own on Jan. 20 to determine who will be the individual ROC champion.

Hunter-Reay will be making his sixth consecutive appearance in the ROC.

“It is a spectacular event and a unique challenge to jump in and out of all the different cars as you go head-to-head with some of the best drivers in the world,” Hunter-Reay said. “So it is a tremendous honor to be invited to compete again.

“I’m proud to represent America, IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, and I look forward to hearing the noise of the crowds in Mexico City, where the passion for motorsport is huge.”

As for Newgarden, this will be his second ROC, having competed in last year’s event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“I’m excited about it,” Newgarden said. “It’s a fun event and it will be fun having it in North America.

“Ryan and I are trying to represent America but there’s some really tough competition again this year.

“There’s a strong Mexican contingent this time around and I’m sure their fans will be really pumped to cheer them on.”

No American driver has ever won the individual title in the ROC. However, NASCAR stars Jimmie Johnson and now-retired Jeff Gordon and now-retired motorcycle racer Colin Edwards won the Nation’s Cup title in 2002.

The ROC has been held since 1988 and has visited numerous venues around the globe including Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, London’s Wembley and Olympic stadiums, Miami’s Marlins Park and Paris’ Stade de France.

While other drivers may still be added before the event, drivers confirmed thus far are:

* 2017 IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden
* 2012 IndyCar champ Ryan Hunter-Reay
* 3-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves
* 4-time F1 champ Sebastian Vettel
* 13-time F1 race winner David Coulthard
* European Formula 3 champion Mick Schumacher
* 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champ Daniel Suarez
* 3-time Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona winner Memo Rojas
* 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward
* FIA PWRC champ Benito Guerra
* 9-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen
* 2-time World Rallycross champ Johan Kristoffersson
* 2016-17 Formula E champ Lucas di Grassi

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Three-time F1 champion Niki Lauda dies at 70

AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File
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BERLIN (AP) Three-time Formula One world champion Niki Lauda, who won two of his titles after a horrific crash that left him with serious burns and went on to become a prominent figure in the aviation industry, has died. He was 70.

The Austria Press Agency reported that Lauda’s family said in a statement he “passed away peacefully” on Monday. Walter Klepetko, a doctor who performed a lung transplant on Lauda last year, said Tuesday: “Niki Lauda has died. I have to confirm that.”

Lauda won the F1 drivers’ championship in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari and again in 1984 with McLaren.

In 1976, he was badly burned when he crashed during the German Grand Prix but made an astonishingly fast return to racing just six weeks later.

Lauda remained closely involved with the Formula One circuit after retiring as a driver in 1985, and in recent years served as the non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team.

Born on Feb. 22, 1949 into a wealthy Vienna industrial family, Nikolaus Andreas Lauda was expected to follow his father’s footsteps into the paper-manufacturing industry, but instead concentrated his business talents and determination on his dreams of becoming a racing driver.

Lauda financed his early career with the help of a string of loans, working his way through the ranks of Formula 3 and Formula 2. He made his Formula 1 debut for the March team at the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix and picked up his first points in 1973 with a fifth-place finish for BRM in Belgium.

Lauda joined Ferrari in 1974, winning a Grand Prix for the first time that year in Spain and his first drivers’ title with five victories the following season.

Facing tough competition from McLaren’s James Hunt, he appeared on course to defend his title in 1976 when he crashed at the Nuerburgring during the German Grand Prix. Several drivers stopped to help pull him from the burning car, but the accident would scar him for life. The baseball cap Lauda almost always wore in public became a personal trademark.

“The main damage, I think to myself, was lung damage from inhaling all the flames and fumes while I was sitting in the car for about 50 seconds,” he recalled nearly a decade later. “It was something like 800 degrees.”

Lauda fell into a coma for a time. He said that “for three or four days it was touch and go.”

“Then my lungs recovered and I got my skin grafts done, then basically there was nothing left,” he added. “I was really lucky in a way that I didn’t do any (other) damage to myself. So the real question was then will I be able to drive again, because certainly it was not easy to come back after a race like that.”

Lauda made his comeback just six weeks after the crash, finishing fourth at Monza after overcoming his initial fears.

He recalled “shaking with fear” as he changed into second gear on the first day of practice and thinking, “I can’t drive.”

The next day, Lauda said he “started very slowly trying to get all the feelings back, especially the confidence that I’m capable of driving these cars again.” The result, he said, boosted his confidence and after four or five races “I had basically overcome the problem of having an accident and everything went back to normal.”

He won his second championship in 1977 before switching to Brabham and then retiring in 1979 to concentrate on setting up his airline, Lauda Air, declaring that he “didn’t want to drive around in circles anymore.”

Lauda came out of retirement in 1982 after a big-money offer from McLaren, reportedly about $3 million a year.

He finished fifth his first year back and 10th in 1983, but came back to win five races and edge out teammate Alain Prost for his third title in 1984. He retired for good the following year, saying he needed more time to devote to his airline business.

Initially a charter airline, Lauda Air expanded in the 1980s to offer flights to Asia and Australia. In May 1991, a Lauda Air Boeing 767 crashed in Thailand after one of its engine thrust reversers accidentally deployed during a climb, killing all 213 passengers and 10 crew.

Lauda occasionally took the controls of the airline’s jets himself over the years. In 1997, longtime rival Austrian Airlines took a minority stake and in 2000, with the company making losses, he resigned as board chairman after an external audit criticized a lack of internal financial control over business conducted in foreign currency. Austrian Airlines later took full control.

Lauda founded a new airline, Niki, in 2003. Germany’s Air Berlin took a minority stake and later full control of that airline, which Lauda bought back in early 2018 after it fell victim to its parent’s financial woes.

He partnered with budget carrier Ryanair on Niki’s successor, LaudaMotion.

On the Formula One circuit, Lauda later formed a close bond with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who joined the team in 2013. He often backed Hamilton in public and provided advice and counsel to the British driver.

Lauda also intervened as a Mercedes mediator when Hamilton and his former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg feuded, argued and traded barbs as they fought for the title between 2014-16

Lauda twice underwent kidney transplants, receiving an organ donated by his brother in 1997 and, when that stopped functioning well, a kidney donated by his girlfriend in 2005.

In August 2018, he underwent a lung transplant that the Vienna General Hospital said was made necessary by a “serious lung illness.” It didn’t give details.

Lauda is survived by his second wife, Birgit, and their twin children Max and Mia. He had two adult sons, Lukas and Mathias, from his first marriage.