Solberg Father and Son Win ROC Team Titles for Norway; Team USA second

Team Norway father-son duo, world rally champions Petter and Oliver Solberg, celebrated a family victory for Team Norway in the ROC Nations Cup on the ice of Pite Havsbad, Sweden. Perhaps an even more impressive performance came from ice racing rookies Jimmie Johnson and Colton Herta, who finished second for Team USA.

On a sunny afternoon on the frozen Baltic Sea, just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, the legends of the world’s greatest motorsport series fought in pairs for national and regional pride. They drove a mix of cars including the FIA ​​RX2e electric rallycross car, the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport, fossil-free biofuel SuperCar Lites and the off-road Polaris RZR PRO XP.

The overnight flooding of Pite Havsbad after an unprecedented tidal wave meant today’s action took place only on the inner half of ROC’s legendary parallel track, which for the first time was purpose-built on ice. The race adopted a similar pursuit format first used at the 2015 ROC at London’s Olympic Stadium.

In the final, FIA World Rally Champion and World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg and his up-and-coming WRC Star son Oliver beat Team USA in the final.

In the first heat, Petter survived seven-time NASCAR Cup Champion Johnson, who had a mechanical problem. Oliver then defeated Herta before jumping straight into the Porsche for the next run – with four-time F1 World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the passenger seat.

Then Johnson hit back with a win of his own, forcing the match into a fourth set. But Petter struck the decisive blow by defeating Herta and sealed the ROC Nations Cup for Team Norway.

“It’s unbelievable,” enthused Petter Solberg. “My motivation came from watching Sebastien Loeb win the Monte Carlo Rally last month and I thought, ‘It can’t be that hard.’ So I was so ready for this race – and to do it with Oliver is a big dream.

“The Race Of Champions has been something very special for many years. It’s so much fun to be with all these guys: everyone has had so much success in their careers, and yet they’re so friendly. Oliver was flying around like a yo-yo all week because he was so excited. That’s how it is at 20. It’s a fantastic atmosphere and I’m very grateful to have the chance to come here.

“The conditions out there were tough for everyone today, but race control did an excellent job of finding a solution. You get a slushy feeling on the snow, like you’re floating. So it’s about not making mistakes. I was nervous about racing with Oliver, but if you can do something like that with your son and see the happiness when he does well, that’s great. He did a very good job and actually drove better than me. But in the final I was really pumped up. Jimmie’s run in the Porsche was very impressive and I knew I had to do my best to beat these guys but we did it.”

Oliver Solberg added: “This is crazy! I’m shocked because it’s very emotional to do this together as a father and son. We had fantastic teamwork and it shows that we work well together. It was a dream come true to come to the Race Of Champions with all the legends I look up to like Jimmie. There are so many stars here and so much experience to take with you. They’re all so humble and nice to me, so it was a fun time and then when we get to the track, it gets serious.

“Today I was only really happy with one run, my race against Johan Kristoffersson. I knew he was fast in the Porsche so that was my most nervous moment but I had a perfect run and I beat him. Then I tried to do the same against Jimmie but he was way faster than me. I had Sebastian Vettel in the car with me, so I thought, ‘If I don’t win, I’ll look stupid.’ Then I lost. So I need to find some more speed for tomorrow but it’s been a great day and it’s fantastic to be here at the end.”

Beaten finalists Team USA also had a fine afternoon, but they narrowly missed taking home the trophy.

“The Race Of Champions is such a special event because you switch between different cars, so nobody feels very comfortable,” says Johnson. “You have to forget the experience and try to tackle what lies ahead. At the start line I tried not to think about who I was driving against, I just tried to stay within my means, be smart and drive the car. Getting through the rounds gives you a chance to go up against great guys and to see names like Vettel and Schumacher is mind blowing.

“Earlier we had a call from Travis Pastrana who would have been riding for Team USA today until his accident last month. He was watching with a group of friends at 5am in the States. He told us we would go all the way, and we almost made it. All other drivers here were also very friendly and helpful and gave us help and advice. But until you can actually feel the feel and grip, and how a four-wheel drive car helps pull you around corners, it doesn’t stick. So every lap made us better. After today, I’m not so sure if we’ll get any more tips…”

Colton Herta added: “Our initial goal was not to be knocked out in the first round. So when we won we jumped up and down and celebrated like we won the whole thing! Nobody would have thought that we would make it to the final. But we had a plan, we stuck to it and here we are. It was great playing against these guys, and especially against the Solbergs in the finals. Conditions weren’t that bad today depending on what car you drove – but maybe we’re not experienced enough to know when conditions are good and when they’re bad! Our approach was just ‘broadcast and see what happens…’”

Because the track conditions on snow and ice can change quickly depending on the weather, the traditional ROC group stage did not take place. Instead, this year’s ROC Nations Cup used a direct knockout system. To make it as fair as possible, the races were decided in four heats, with each driver competing against both drivers from the other team. In a 2-2 draw, the team with the best overall time came through.

Team Finland’s Mika Häkkinen and Emma Kimilainen performed well and made it to the semifinals before finally being defeated 3-1 by Team USA. Two-time F1 World Champion Hakkinen clinched a single win, but it wasn’t enough to advance.

“Mr. Le Mans” Tom Kristensen from Team Nordic and World Rallycross Champion Johan Kristoffersson also reached the semifinals. Both won a run in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Team Norway before being beaten by a best times countback.

There were some big stars of global motorsport eliminated in the quarter-finals, including the mighty Team Germany (Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher) who were defeated by Team USA in a fastest lap countback after a 2-2 draw.

Another casualty at this stage was Team GB’s David Coulthard and Jamie Chadwick, who fell to Team Finland. All four drivers each won a race for another 2-2 draw, but Hakkinen had the last word, beating his old McLaren F1 team-mate Coulthard in the final heat with enough margin to progress.

Sébastien Loeb and Didier Auriol, Team Frances World Rally Championship legends, suffered a 3-1 defeat by Team Nordic despite Loeb’s win over Kristensen.

To the horror of the home fans, Mattias Ekström and Timmy Hansen from the Swedish team were also eliminated in the quarter-finals. They were beaten 3-1 in an all-Scandinavian bout with Team Norway, though Ekstrom managed a consolation win over Oliver Solberg.

Afternoon action began with two play-offs in Round 1. Team Latin America (Helio Castroneves and Benito Guerra) were the first team eliminated after a close battle with Team USA. Reigning ROC Champion of Champions Guerra won both of their races 2-2, but they went out on a fastest lap countback.

Team eROC All Stars (Jarno Opmeer and Lucas Blakeley) was the other pairing to bow out after a 3-1 loss to Team Germany. But that wasn’t before Blakeley gave himself a story to earn free drinks for life in Scotland’s pubs by beating Vettel in his very first race.

Before the start of the race, the riders, in collaboration with the Institute for Advanced Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Research ICM, unfurled a banner in honor of ROC’s absent friend (and six-time ROC Nations Cup winner) Michael Schumacher as he continues his recovery.

The racing action continues with tomorrow’s individual Race Of Champions at 6:00-9:00 ET when all the teamwork goes out the window and it’s a head-to-head battle for the coveted title of ROC Champion of Champions. The event will be broadcast on MAVTV and MotorTrendonDemand in the US and on REV TV in Canada.

About Veronica Richards

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