The Race of Champions is surely one of the most exciting motorsport events of the off-season, due to the all-star line up of racing drivers involved; this year, W Series' racers Jamie Chadwick and Emma Kimiläinen brought back a female entry after 2014 - and they didn't disappoint!
Have you ever wondered who's the best driver ever? Race of Champions has got you covered! Even if it doesn't declare exactly who's the best, it reunites some of the fastest racers from all around the world to face challenges on different types of cars and discover which nation, and then driver, is the winning one in terms of speed, precision and racecraft.
This year's event was hosted at the cold-land of Pite Havsbad, Sweden, where the drivers had to face a series of head-to-head races in identical cars, that required not only great driving technique on ice, skills to escape the snow banks and speed - but also a lot of courage to withstand the temperatures of the frozen Baltic Sea, just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle!
Unfortunately not all nations could enter the competition, but this year we had the luck to see W Series champion Jamie Chadwick representing Great Britain, together with Formula 1 race winner David Coulthard - both very excited to team up before the event.
"I’m super excited to make my Race Of Champions debut in Sweden. It’s an event I’ve always loved watching so I can’t wait to experience it for the first time. It’s going to be an honor to represent Great Britain with an icon like David Coulthard" – Jamie said.
Finland was supposed to line up double F1 champion Mika Hakkinen alongside newest Alfa Romeo F1 racer Valtteri Bottas, but at the last minute the latter had to cancel. Bottas was then replaced by the amazing Emma Kimiläinen, third-placed in this year's W Series championship with two victories to her name in the all-female series.
Both W Series racers were at their first Race Of Champions experience and had never raced on such peculiar conditions such as a frozen lake. Chadwick's off-road experience was limited to a few entries in this year's inaugural edition of Extreme E - while Kimiläinen, despite her Scandinavian origin, had never raced a rally car before and had to adapt quickly.
It was only the first time in the history of the event that a female driver entered the Race of Champions: the only precedent was in 2014, when Susie Wolff raced alongside Coulthard at Team GB.
The 2022 edition of the Race of Champions was scheduled over two days - with Sunday 6th of February crowning the Champion, preceded by Saturday 5th of February, where the Nations Cup was assigned.
At 12:00 CET, the heats went underway: a draw had previously paired the national teams at the quarter finals and one of the first head-to-head turned out to be Great Britain vs. Finland. One of the most interesting features of ROC is the wide variety of race cars that drivers have at their disposal: this year, the Polaris Pro XP, a Rallycross Supercar Lites vehicle, the electric-powered RX2e and the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport were used.
At the first round, Emma Kimiläinen went against David Coulthard - who unfortunately finished over five seconds ahead in Emma's first outing on the course. The second leg was all about Jamie Chadwick against Mika Hakkinen on a Polaris RZR buggy; Chadwick won, with a three second advantage!
Then it was time for Chadwick and Kimiläinen to challenge each other, just like in W Series: after a great start from Jamie, at the wheel of a Porsche Cayman GT4, the Brit went into the snow banks and took the checkered flag after Emma - who had then managed the race at the font without taking risks. Hakkinen would also beat his former McLaren teammate Coulthard, as Team Finland advanced to the next round thanks to a faster aggregate lap time.
Unfortunately for Jamie and Team Great Britain, the day was over – but Emma Kimiläinen was up against a new challenge: Team Finland was about to race American drivers Colton Herta and Jimmie Johnson, previously winners from the duel with Team Germany, represented by current Formula 1 drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher.
Kimiläinen firstly faced NASCAR superstar Johnson, 7-time Cup series champion, and unfortunately a little mistake cost her the victory. Despite Mika Hakkinen winning his first round against Indycar wonderboy Herta, Team Finland lost out on the chance to advance to the final.
"Team Finland made it to the semifinals in the ROC Nations Cup", wrote Emma on Saturday. "We didn't have the pace to get into the finals, but we salute Team Norway, father & son Solberg, for the victory of the ROC Nations Cup and Team USA for coming second!"
"The conditions were tricky today because of Friday's snowstorm, which ruined the original track and we drove only a 1/3 of it. Therefore we ended up having two tight hairpin corners and with my 0% experience in such rally cars, I honestly didn't know the tricks and the technique how to properly get the car turning fast in the hairpins."
"To come and replace Valtteri Bottas in very short notice, I just took the challenge without any practice so making it to semifinals together with a legend, a childhood hero of mine, the one and only Mika Hakkinen was simply freaking awesome!"
The Nations Cup went to WRC icons Oliver and Petter Solberg, representing Team Norway.
race of champions
On a cold Sunday morning, Jamie Chadwick was the first driver to go out on track, facing Haas F1 driver Mick Schumacher – both on a rallycross car. Jamie's performance was incredible and she won the race by a 1.429 seconds. Schumacher, who had been leading the first lap, was hunted down in the final lap and the W Series champion advanced to the round of eight. A little mistake in her heat against Colton Herta sent Chadwick against the snow barriers and Herta went through. Nevertheless, Chadwick's performance was remarkable at her first ever ROC participation, against some of the world's top drivers.
"That was my debut at the Race Of Champions - a bit disappointed for how it went in the end, unfortunately I made a mistake in the second race – but still I'm just happy, there were so many legends. Hopefully it's not my last one and I come back for more and enjoy this next year." – Chadwick said.
Emma Kimiläinen didn't find herself against an easy opponent either: at the wheel of the Polaris, she was defeated by Sebastian Vettel, after completing a very close first lap. It was her first experience on a rallycross car, but still gave the four-time F1 World Champion a hard time.
"Didn't make it through the quarter finals today at the Race Of Champions after losing slightly to Vettel, who then made it all the way into the finals", commented Kimiläinen.
"What an amazing experience it has been! Taking the challenge on really short notice to replace Valtteri Bottas, being a bit worried about racing against the best drivers in the world in a strange field for me, having no chance to practice but I'm so happy I took it!"
"I learned so much and a little rally bug definitely bit me. This experience was so cool! Hopefully we see in the future too!"
Sebastian Vettel was then able to advance to the final, but could not dethrone 9-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb, who won his fourth ROC.
This icy edition of the Race of Champions was definitely thrilling – the drivers really had to step into the most focused of mindset to perform well on all cars and on a rapidly changing track surface, but they all did it amazingly, and we hope to see Jamie and Emma – as well as a growing numbers of female competitors – at next year's edition.