Motor sport legends prepare for this weekend's ROC
Many of the world's greatest drivers have arrived in Miami ahead of this weekend's Race Of Champions – and today they put in their first practice laps of the unique ROC circuit winding its way around the inside of Marlins Park.
The annual Race Of Champions, now in its 28th edition, brings together some of the world's greatest drivers from motor sport's major disciplines – including Formula 1, NASCAR, IndyCar, Le Mans, Rally X and Touring Cars – and sets them free to battle head-to-head in identical machinery.
The competitive action starts with Saturday's individual Race Of Champions, before the drivers pair up in teams for Sunday's ROC Nations Cup and a special Ryder Cup-style finale: America vs The World
As they tried out the all-new track for the first time, today the drivers faced the media at Miami's Marlins Park. Here's a selection of what they've said so far:
Sebastian VETTEL, four-time Formula 1 world champion (Team Germany)
"I've been trying to win the Race Of Champions for many years so I was very happy to finally get to the final in London last year and take the trophy home with me. Now it's great to be back. It's great to hang out with the other drivers, away from what is normally a competitive environment. Of course when you're on track and the lights are about to go out you want to win, but off the track it's very easy going. The format of the racing is very different too, but good fun. The fact you drive with different cars means you have to adapt quickly. You don't have much time to think so you just do what you feel is right. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But as racing drivers it's important to have the right excuse: it was cold last year so if it doesn't work out this time it must be because it is too hot…"
Pascal WEHRLEIN, 2015 DTM champion (Team Germany)
"This is my third time at the Race Of Champions but the first time I've been on a team with Sebastian. Before I've always been in a young drivers group and we didn't do so well but with Sebastian we have a great chance to win for Team Germany again. It's a lot of fun with many different cars. You can race without pressure so you can enjoy yourself and have good fun with all the other drivers, most of whom are greats in their fields. From what I can understand the secret to winning the Race Of Champions seems to be about what you get up to the night before…"
Jenson BUTTON, 2009 Formula 1 world champion (Team GB)
"It's great to be back at the Race Of Champions, especially to be in Miami. It was my birthday yesterday: I'm 37 now, so I'm a bit the worse for wear today. But hopefully by tomorrow I'll be in better form. There's a real mix of drivers from different formulas. This year for me is about everything else in my life, apart from F1. I've been enjoying myself and it's been great so far. I will still be racing this year – starting this weekend. My ROC Nations Cup team-mate DC is always very good if he hasn't slept much. Thankfully it doesn't look like he's slept much, so he should be firing on all cylinders, however many of those there are…"
David COULTHARD, 13-time Formula 1 grand prix winner (Team GB)
"There's such a great line-up at this year's Race Of Champions, I'm the only person I don't actually know! So thank you to Fredrik Johnsson and the team for inviting me back. While these guys are used to putting on a race suit, in my case I packed my bag a week in advance. It's great to have it in America, I'm super-excited and it takes me back to being a young kid. A lot of motor sports talk about the fans but at ROC they really take to heart what the fans are asking for. This new format of America vs the World will add another layer for the fans to enjoy. We have all come over and we intend to take the trophy hope. They think we're on their territory but the rivalries have started already in the changing rooms. As long as we win, it will be perfect…"
Kurt BUSCH, 2004 NASCAR champion (Team USA NASCAR)
"Seeing the Race Of Champions in past years in London, Paris, Germany: the tight confines of where the circuit is, that stadium effect is something we rarely feel, see or witness in the USA. Bristol Motor Speedway is about as close as it gets but that is still half a mile long and the fans aren't as close as in a stadium like this. This is an asphalt track with all different kinds of vehicles and the spectators really close to the action. This event is great, especially the fraternity between the guys. Everyone has come from different places so it's fun to get back to your roots and experience all the different cars. Kyle and I have a lot of work ahead of us but I hope we'll get a lot of NASCAR fans and there's a positive turnout for everyone on Saturday and Sunday."
Kyle BUSCH, 2015 NASCAR champion (Team USA NASCAR)
"This is my first time doing the Race Of Champions and I'm certainly excited about it. Being an American here in Miami, it's more into my wheelhouse not to venture too far away! The layout is really cool and they've spread it out as big as you possibly could. You can still get some good speed and there are tough braking areas. We don't want to disappoint our fans, that's for sure. Kurt and I aren't in a team just representing the USA and NASCAR, it's brothers. He's got the experience here, having raced at ROC in Barbados two years ago, so I've got to lean on him a bit, to find out about how to attack the race. We'll either kill each other or high five each other at the end…"
Juan-Pablo MONTOYA, 2015 Indy 500 winner (Team Colombia)
"I've been invited to the Race Of Champions a few times but for whatever reason it's never happened. But this year it's close to my home and it's been a lot of fun so far. I'm very happy that it's here in Miami and this is a great venue. I've been to Marlins Park to watch baseball with the kids. Now to see an actual race track inside… It's a pretty good layout for the space we have what the guys at Race Of Champions have done is unbelievable. They did an amazing job. Experience plays a part here: after a few laps you start getting the hang of the cars, but you can mess it up really bad so you have to go for it. It reminds me of when I grew up in Colombia driving little 90bhp saloon cars. But I've been enjoying watching Pascal Wehrlein because it's funny how hard he's trying. Man, I'm not 22 any more and I can't do that. Half the effort and you'll get the same result…"
"Juan Pablo is very easy to get along with and he's a great team-mate. The problem is when I'm trying to focus and pay attention to how to go round the track… and he's showing me funny videos on his phone. So you have to be able to multi-task if you want to work with Juan Pablo. But I'm definitely enjoying being here among the best drivers in the world. It's my first time and it's definitely one of the great events of my career. I've been in a lot of cool races but I've never done anything like this. I also hope Team Colombia will get plenty of support this weekend. They say this is the United States but this is Latin American territory! So I hope there will be lots of fans here to support the Latin American drivers."
Tom KRISTENSEN, nine-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner (Team Nordic)
"It's amazing that I've been to the Race Of Champions 15 times, equalling the record by the great Stig Blomqvist. Some of them were when he was still racing, so it's been a fantastic journey. But I'm very happy to still be a part of this with all the young talent coming through. As always there is a great mix of drivers and the circuit is completely different this year. It's an interesting format, having to make sure we can swap sides under heavy pressure. That will be exciting on this track. I've been the runner-up four times so of course I'll try to win it at last – and recently Petter and I have done well in the ROC Nations Cup, but that was when it was on a Saturday. Now it's on a Sunday maybe not – Saturday night doesn't suit us."
Petter SOLBERG, double FIA World Rallycross Champion (Team Nordic)
"It's good to be with Tom again on Team Nordic. Even though he's still retired he's done a lot of driving so Team Nordic should be strong. But I look around at the other teams too: David Coulthard always does his research and practice for this event. He's done his homework… Last year I won the ROC Skills Challenge in London. That suits me rather better than flat out racing but having spoken to Jenson Button earlier I found out that it's not normal to have a handbrake in a Formula 1 car. Of the other cars I'm looking forward to driving the NASCAR. I made a big mistake last year but I was fast and like it, it's still very cool."
Travis PASTRANA, action sports legend (Team USA Rally X)
"I think this is the first time I've been to the Race Of Champions without any injuries! I did once beat Sebastian Vettel in Germany, and now I've drawn him in the first round yet again. So I'm looking forward to having another go but maybe Seb wants revenge now I'm at home in America. I'm excited to be back. Every other time I've won races but I've also flipped a car against (world rally champion) Marcus Grönholm once and had a lot of fun like that so I just hope that Scott Speed will pick up where I mess up."
Scott SPEED, double Global Rallycross Champion (Team USA Rally X)
"The guys at the Race Of Champions have built such an amazing facility – inside a baseball stadium. The track is awesome. It's such a cool place to have a race and it's great to see all your friends who you have been racing with throughout your life and get everyone together at the start of the year. This is a perfect event for my Team USA Rally X team-mate Travis too. He's actually really good behind the wheel of a car and he throws caution to the wind. So we've got a chance. Meanwhile to get into the individual Race Of Champions tomorrow I have to beat Alexander Rossi. We've never raced before, not even on the X-Box, so that will be exciting and different…"
Alexander ROSSI, 2016 Indy 500 winner (Team USA IndyCar)
"This is the first time I've been involved in the Race Of Champions, and it's the first time I've really understood the extent of it. The whole event is a lot of fun. I'm very happy to be here and I'm enjoying the experience. To get into the individual race I have to beat Scott, who was pretty exceptional in single-seaters before he went to rallycross. I didn't even know we drove so many different cars at this event until this morning – among them the Radical, the buggy, and the three-wheeled Slingshot – so it's a big learning experience. The only time I've driven something with three wheels before, it started with four wheels… But the NASCAR's cool: that's an American thing so that makes sense!"
Ryan HUNTER-REAY, 2014 Indy 500 winner (Team USA IndyCar)
"It's cool to have the Race Of Champions in the United States for the first time here at Marlins Park. I live half an hour up the road so it's a pretty unique situation. I've been here with my kids for baseball games and I've even thrown the first pitch so it's special to be racing inside this ball park. It's a strange place for a race track but the Race Of Champions has done an amazing job with it. This is a great event and it's great to be a part of this group. I don't feel any more pressure because I'm at home, I felt the same as I did in London, Bangkok and Barbados on my previous visits. You want to win, you're up against the best in the world and it's a chance to race against guys you may never race against again. You race a wide range of different cars so it's a unique situation where everyone is out of their comfort zone and it's fun to see everyone like that. Now I hope we can win it for the USA."
Felipe MASSA, 11-time Formula 1 grand prix winner (Team Brazil)
"When I first knew I was coming to the Race Of Champions I was planning to have retired from Formula 1 by now. So I was planning to go to lots of different restaurants and enjoy my holidays. Now everything's completely changed and I'm back training every day, even with my team-mate Tony Kanaan's trainer here in Miami. Things have changed so I'm really motivated to carry on and attack F1 again. Meanwhile it's a great pleasure to be here at this amazing event. I was in London last year and I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun as Tony and I try to put Brazil on the top."
Tony KANAAN, 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner (Team Brazil)
"I haven't had an opportunity to come to the Race Of Champions since my debut in 2004 but it's finally made it to my home town and I'm excited. I definitely remember my first Race Of Champions, 13 years ago in Paris. It was traumatising: in the first heat of the day I went up against Sébastien Loeb and I got booed. So I'm glad Kyle's here to take care of that for us. To make sure I've also bought out a full section of the grandstand for my friends…"
James HINCHCLIFFE, 2016 Indy 500 pole sitter (ROC Factor Canada)
"The Race Of Champions is huge: it's an event I've known about for years and I've always wanted to take part in it. Now I'm looking forward to racing with the best of the best and going and thrashing their cars about. We've been campaigning to get Team Canada into the ROC Nations Cup for a few years so when this ROC Factor concept came up and I was asked to be on it, it was incredible. We had a Canadian in the running, then Stefan won the vote. So I'm excited to team up with him and see what we can do. He's a pretty good racer and had some success so he's not coming here completely green. Jumping into a bunch of different cars on the same day is hard for anyone so we'll probably be leaning on each other."
Stefan RZADZINSKI, 2017 ROC Factor winner (ROC Factor Canada)
"I got here by applying online from a coffee shop in December. Then on January 4, the day before my birthday, I was sitting in my office at a software company in Edmonton when I got an email from the Race Of Champions saying you have four and a half days and if you get enough votes you could be racing. My competitor was an IndyCar driver so I thought ‘This isn't going to be easy'. I didn't sleep for that time and it took a lot of work but it's great to be here. Thanks to everyone who helped me get here. It was minus 20 degrees in Edmonton so this feels a bit different! I've done a bit of racing and I was briefly team-mates with Gabby Chaves a couple of years ago. Now I'm hoping to learn a lot from these guys. I was a big F1 and IndyCar fan so these are guys I've looked up to – and I've grown up watching them race."
Helio CASTRONEVES, triple Indy 500 winner (ROC Factor Latin America)
"I'm very excited to be here in Miami. There's no other event where you could unite so many talented people and so many great athletes in one place. So thanks to ROC president Fredrik Johnsson I'm here this weekend representing my own Latin American country, I'm that special! And as for my team-mate right here…"
Gabriel GLUSMAN, 2017 ROC Factor winner (ROC Factor Latin America)
"I've done two track days. And counting. One of them was at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, a horrible day with lots of rain. Then I did a driving experience in a Formula Ford at Britain's Donington Park. So yes, this is pretty unreal. I remember fighting my way through crowds to get even close to some of these guys, and I've been in grandstands watching all of them. So just to be here sharing this event and this press conference is a dream come true for me. Having said that, once you get in the car you don't care who's in front and you go all the way. The way I see it I have nothing to lose but for any of them to lose against me would be pretty embarrassing…"
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