Colton Herta, Jimmie Johnson reach Race of Champions individual quarterfinals

Johnson Herta Race Champions
Race of Champions

Jimmie Johnson and Colton Herta remained successful in Sweden as the American stars reached the individual quarterfinals Sunday in the Race of Champions Snow and Ice after finishing second in Saturday’s Nations Cup.

Herta fell to four-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel, and Johnson was defeated by nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen.

Vettel reached the final where champion rally legend Sebastien Loeb captured this year’s Race of Champions title. It’s the record-tying fourth Race of Champions title for the Frenchman, who beat Mattias Ekstrom to advance to the final.

The event was held on a snow- and ice-covered course in Pite Havsbad, Sweden, 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. But Johnson and Herta, who both grew up in Southern California a generation apart, quickly acclimated to the frigid conditions. With hardly any practice because of a snowstorm, they reached the final Saturday and lost to Petter and Oliver Solberg.

“The Race Of Champions is such a special event because you switch between different cars, so no one is very comfortable,” Johnson said, according to the ROC website. “You have to forget the experience and try to tackle what’s in front of you. On the start line I tried not to think about who I was racing, I just tried to stay within my means, be smart and drive the car.”

While Johnson had competed in the ROC before (winning the event in 2002), Herta was making his debut in place of injured Travis Pastrana. Johnson said Pastrana had called just before Saturday’s event to offer moral support.

Herta said the team celebrated as if they had won after winning in the first round Saturday. “Certainly nobody could have thought we’d make it to the final, but we had a plan, we stuck to it and here we are,” Hera said on the ROC site. “Our approach was just ‘Send it and see what happens.’ ”

Johnson defeated two-time champion Mika Hakkinen by 3 seconds Sunday in the individual Round of 16.

Herta advanced to the Round of 16 by eliminating fellow NTT IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves, whom he also had faced during the team competition Saturday.

Castroneves amusingly was waging a struggle with the wintry weather a week after the four-time Indy 500 winner had won his second Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“Very cold,” the Brazilian exclaimed in an ROC social video. “Oh my God, this is ridiculous. I’m dying here!’