Priaulx and Plato win the ROC Nations Cup for Team England

Race of champions

Race of championsOn an incredibly cold Friday evening in London, stars from some of the world’s biggest motorsport championships were teamed up in pairs to battle for their countries.

They have a wide selection of cars to race– including the Mercedes-AMG GT S, Ariel Atom Cup, Radical SR3 RSX, KTM X-Bow, ROC Car, Euro NASCAR, RX200 and RX150 – on a brand new Olympic cycling-style pursuit track.

Great Britain had plenty of home interest. Team England 1 was formed of Touring car legends Andy Priaulx and Jason Plato with several national and international titles between them they looked to take the fight to the rest of the world. Team England two or Team Somerset as it was nick-named by the commentators was Jenson Button and Champion GT driver Alex Buncombe. Team Scotland returned from last year with Susie Wolff, the events only female driver again pairing with David Coulthard. Team Young stars had Jolyon Palmer who recently signed to drive for Team Lotus in Formula 1 in 2016, he is alongside the youngest ever DTM Champion Pascal Wehrlein. Last of the home drivers but definitely not least is Legendary Olympian Sir Chris Hoy, who of course is now a successful racing driver as well. He joined the All stars team alongside Romain Grosjean replacing Moto GP champion Jorge Lorenzo who had to pull out with an injury to his leg.

The first race out was Team England 1 against team Brazil, Andy Priaulx against Nelson Piquet Jr first followed by Jason Plato against current Williams F1 driver Felipe Massa. Priaulx easily best Piquet Jr beat Piquet Jr in identical Euro Nascars and then Plato put on a similarly dominant show to beat Massa in Mercedes AMG SLS cars.

Then in the next encounter Team All stars driver, Olympian Chris Hoy was beaten by Young stars Pascal Wehrlein in KTM X-Bows. Their team mates were next; Team Young stars Jolyon Palmer was beaten by Team All stars Romain Grosjean in Mercedes after Palmer got a Puncture and so it went to a third round; Wehrlein vs Grosjean in Radicals.

Wehrlein beat Grosjean relatively easily in the decider to put Team Young stars through to the next stage.

Tom Kristensen of Team Nordic then beat Jose Maria-Lopez of Team Americas in KTM X-bows after Lopez brushed the barrier. This put the pressure on Ryan Hunter-Reay to beat Petter Solberg who is usually an expert at these events.

Their race was in Euro Nascars and Solberg, perhaps not so comfortable in these cars, spun gifting the race to Hunter Reay and so another match went to a decider.

So the decider was Kristensen against Hunter-Reay in Aerial Atoms and the Dane took the win by a tenth of a second to put Team Nordic through alongside England 1 and Young Stars
Next up were Germany and Australia. First it was Vettel against Ricciardo in KTM X Bows. The two are former team mates when Ricciardo came out on top but who would win this time? It was close until Ricciardo made a mistake on the final corner to give Vettel the victory.

Their ROC team mates were next on track, Mick Doohan, a motorcycling legend against young German F1 star and Le Mans winner Nico Hulkenberg. Hulkenberg came out on top to take Germany take through, two wins to none.

The event’s only female driver, Suzie Wolff for team Scotland in her final racing event was next on track against Alex Buncombe in Team England 2. Sadly for Susie, Alex Buncombe won the race in Mercedes SLS cars.

Jenson Button, Buncombe’s team mate then raced a KTM X Bow against David Coulthard and with Button taking the win by just 51 thousandths of a second, Coulthard and Wolf were out after only two races.

We then moved to the next stage with Young stars against team England 1. The first round of this battle was Priaulx against Wehrlein in Aerial Atoms with Priaulx taking the win from Wehrlein. Priaulx had Olympian Denise Lewis alongside him as a passenger and said he thought she was his lucky charm!

It was an all British race next with Young stars driver Jolyon Palmer against team england’s Jason Plato in Radicals. Palmer edged Plato by two tenths to level the match 1 win each. This set up a third round between Palmer and Priaulx. Could next year’s Lotus F1 driver Palmer beat a second touring car legend? The winner of this round would compete against the Team England 2 team of Button and Buncombe.

Both drivers made mistakes as they raced KTM X- Bows but Priaulx’s were slightly smaller and Priaulx went through with Plato as they headed to a semi-final draw against the other England team guaranteeing that there would be a UK team in the final.

But before that it was the other Semi Final; Team Nordic against Team Germany. First up was Vettel against Kristensen in Aerial Atoms and in a very close race, Vettel narrowly edged out Kristensen.

So Solberg now had to beat Hulkenberg to keep Team Nordic in the competition and take it to a third round against Vettel. This time they raced in Mercedes SLS and Solberg couldn’t hold back Hulkenberg so Germany surged through after two rounds to face the winner of the other semi final which of course would be one of the two England teams. But which one?

First up was Priaulx for England 1 against Buncombe for England 2 in KTM X Bows. Priaulx put in a faultless performance to edge out Buncombe, meaning Button now needed to beat Plato as they took to the stadium track in Mercedes SLS cars.

At the first split Plato edged out Button but things were very close and a mistake by either driver could give it to the other one. Button had a much better second lap and turned it around to beat Plato to the line and take it to a third round.

So now Button would be up against Priaulx in Aerial Atoms to see which of the two Team Englands would go to the final.

On the first lap Priaulx pulled out a big gap but as he started the second he got into a big slide and lost a lot of time. Sadly for Button he lost even more time on his lap and Priaulx easily took the win to put England 1 into the final against Germany.

“I was struggling with the gearbox, instead of going from second to third on the straight I went to first and I couldn’t get in gear after that so it wasn’t the best!” Button said afterwards “But I’m glad England is in the final so we’ll be cheering them on!”

So the first match of the final was Vettel against Priaulx in Radicals. Both had difficult starts with Vettel nearly jumping the start and so he then stuttered off the line to avoid getting a penalty. Priaulx then pulled away anyway beating Vettel for the first time in a nation’s cup event.

Now it was Plato’s turn to race against Hulkenberg from team Germany in the Mercedes SLS. Hulkenberg made the best start but Plato is quick in a saloon car and started to gain on Hulkenberg before a mistake dropped him back again. He then couldn’t make up the time for a second time giving Hulkenberg the win and a third round for the final.

So the final race of the Nations cup was Priaulx against Hulkenberg in KTM X Bows. It’s the third time that England have made the final and they have never won before whereas Germany have never lost when they’ve made a final in the nations cup so the pressure was on Hulkenberg to not lose the German perfect final record.

Priaulx made another great start and was faultless once again to beat Hulkenberg across the line and win the Nations cup for Team England.

Afterwards a delighted Priaulx said: “I had a great night. Tonight it all just hooked up. Germany have won it a few times so it’s nice to have a turn – and nice for me to win a race for once! I’ve been to the ROC Nations Cup final three times so to do the job is great. This competition is tough and it gets tougher every year so you have to be on your A game here because every race is like a qualifying session. It’s so easy to make mistakes but I’m really chuffed. Thanks to Fredrik Johnsson and all the guys at ROC for bringing us here. It’s brilliant to get the chance to race in front of our home crowd in London – what more could we ask? But tomorrow is another day…”

Plato added: “I made a few mistakes tonight so Andy’s pushed me through it but it’s a fantastic feeling to win at home. Team Germany beat us in the final the last time we did it together so it’s actually an excellent rivalry. So this has to go down as one of the highlights of my career – to race against the calibre of these guys, who are the best in the world, and to have the positivity of racing in this venue. It can’t be underestimated what it means to race in front of your home crowds. We’re in an iconic stadium and you can hear them as you cross the line.”

It was a great advert for British Motorsport and especially the BTCC where both Priaulx and Plato have been competing in 2015. To beat some of the best drivers from around the world including Formula 1 world champions was an incredible achievement.

They don’t have much time to celebrate as they now go on to compete against both each other and the other drivers in the individual Race of Champions competition on Saturday. You can still buy tickets for the event at the gate so if you’re local to London why not head to Stratford to support the home drivers? It will be live on Sky Sports F1 once again and we’ll be reporting on the event, this time with exclusive photos from the stadium. By Marc Waller

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