Mexican rally racer Benito Guerra put in a stunning performance to eclipse 19 international motorsports superstars and win the Race Of Champions for the first time at the Foro Sol, the stadium section of Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez F1 circuit.
Following Team Nordic’s triumph in yesterday’s ROC Nations Cup, all cooperation went out of the window today. The individual Race Of Champions pitted some of the world’s top racers in a range of identical cars — including the VUHL 05 ROC Edition 2019, Ariel Atom Cup, Stadium Super Truck, RX Supercar Lite, Speed SXS UTV, KTM X-Bow and ROC Car — on a purpose-built pursuit track.
On a sunny afternoon in Mexico City, the Race Of Champions featured surprise after surprise as legends of global motorsport bit the dust. The best-of-three Grand Final boiled down to a battle between Le Mans winner Loic Duval and local hero Guerra. In the end Guerra saw off his French rival in two straight heats to become ROC champion for the first time.
“This feeling is completely amazing. I’m lost for words but I’m really happy,” said a delighted Guerra. “Thank you so much to all the crowds for supporting me, it was a very tough competition. It’s amazing to be competing against so many of the world’s top drivers and I had to face up to so many great drivers along the way, but I’m really happy to be the number one.
“Thank you so much to Fredrik Johnsson and his team for bringing the Race Of Champions to Mexico. It’s been an amazing weekend and to have so much support from the grandstands has been incredible. This one is for Mexico!”
In the semi-finals, Duval beat Mexico’s 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward. The other race saw the end of a spirited run by another home star, former F1 star Esteban Gutierrez, who was beaten by Guerra.
The quarter-finals proved an unhappy round for the heroes of yesterday’s ROC Nations Cup for Team Nordic. ‘Mr Le Mans’ Tom Kristensen lost out to his former Audi teammate Duval while FIA World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson was beaten by O’Ward.
FIA Formula 3 European champion Mick Schumacher also went out in the quarter-finals at the hands of Gutierrez, while Red Bull Racing Formula 1 star Pierre Gasly was defeated by Guerra.
The drivers were earlier split into four groups of four, battling for the right to line up in the knockout stages.
Kristensen dominated Group A with three wins out of three, while O’Ward ended up in second place with two wins. That meant reigning ROC ‘Champion of Champions’ David Coulthard was unable to repeat his heroics from Riyadh last year. He bowed out, despite a single win against Mexican NASCAR driver Abraham Calderon.
Kristoffersson and Duval both progressed from Group B with two wins each. But that meant it was an early goodbye from Brazil’s 2016-2017 Formula E Champion Lucas di Grassi and the USA’s 2017 IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, even though they both took a win.
Group C produced one of the afternoon’s biggest cheers when home hero Guerra defeated four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel in the very first heat. The German was later knocked out after losing a dramatic head-to-head with his ROC Nations Cup team-mate Schumacher, who was en route to three wins out of three. Mexican NASCAR ace Daniel Suarez also failed to progress after crashing out of his last race while Guerra made it through with two wins.
Gasly also made it through the groups with a perfect record, topping Group D with three wins out of three. He was joined in the quarter-finals by Gutierrez with two wins. But it was an early farewell for Italy’s 2018 eROC Champion Enzo Bonito despite an impressive win against Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who also went out.
Kicking off the afternoon’s action, eight of the drivers were matched up in pairs for a series of Round 1 playoffs. And there were some huge casualties before the group stages even began: Triple Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves was defeated by Duval while triple World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx fell to Calderon.
Yesterday’s eROC World Final winner James Baldwin was also knocked out at this stage at the hands of his fellow simracer Bonito, while Mexican sports car racer Memo Rojas was beaten by Schumacher.
Calderon earlier won the ROC Mexico shootout between eight home drivers to seal the last place on today’s grid, after defeating yesterday’s ROC Mexico winner Ruben Garcia Jr. in the final.