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Benito Guerra takes upset win in Race of Champions

Mexican Rally Star defeats Duval for win
Sunday, January 20, 2019

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Overall winner Benito Guerra
Overall winner Benito Guerra
Mexican rally star Benito Guerra put in a stunning performance to eclipse 19 fellow superstars of motorsport and win the Race Of Champions for the first time on a thrilling afternoon of non-stop action and entertainment at the Foro Sol, the iconic stadium section of Mexico City’s Autódromo 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 best drivers 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 Loïc Duval and home hero Guerra. In the end Guerra saw off his French rival in two straight heats to become ROC Champion of Champions for the first time.

Afterwards a delighted Guerra said: “This feeling is completely amazing. I’m lost for words but really happy. It’s incredible to compete against so many of the world’s top drivers. I had to face many great drivers along the way, not least three F1 drivers in Pierre Gasly, Esteban Gutierrez and Sebastian Vettel. So this is an amazing moment for me, definitely one of the highlights of my career. It was a very tough competition, but I’m really happy to come out as the number one.

“Thank you so much to Fredrik Johnsson and his team for bringing the Race Of Champions to Mexico and for doing such a perfect job putting on this event. Of all the amazing cars we drove, my favourite was the Vuhl. I’m proud to be a Mexican driving a Mexican car in front of a Mexican crowd. Thank you so much to all the crowds for supporting me too, it felt incredible. This win is for Mexico!”

Duval added: “Of course I would have loved to win today, but I’m very happy with my achievement in reaching the Grand Final – and to be beaten by a Mexican in Mexico was special. In these races you never know how to balance being conservative and going for it, but in the end I lost against the best man on the day. All the people were of course cheering for Benito but that was fine by me, it just meant the atmosphere was incredible. Mexico is one of the best countries for supporting motorsport and it’s nice to have this kind of support and to see people waving flags in the crowds.

“This whole weekend has been an awesome experience, to hang out with all these great drivers and to talk about everything, not just racing. I didn’t drink too much last night, which probably helped… But there is always another day – and hopefully I can come back to the Race Of Champions again in the future to go one step further!”

It was a night of glory for Mexican motorsport as the home country provided no less than three of the four semi-finalists. In one semi-final, 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 racer Esteban Gutierrez, who was beaten by Guerra.

Guerra drives to victory
Guerra drives to victory
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 team-mate 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 Suárez also failed to progress after crashing out of his last race while Guerra made it through with two wins.

From left, Duval, Guerra and Vettel on podium
From left, Duval, Guerra and Vettel on podium
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 play-offs. 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 sportscar great Memo Rojas was beaten by Schumacher.

Calderon earlier won the ROC Mexico shoot-out 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.

Before the racing the drivers unfurled a banner in conjunction with the institute for advanced research into brain and spinal cord injuries ICM in honour of ROC’s absent friend (and six-time ROC Nations Cup winner) Michael Schumacher as he continues his recovery from his 2013 skiing accident.

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