When I first heard that the Race of Champions (ROC) was coming to Bangkok this year, I knew I had to find my way there. How could I miss out on all the action with legends like Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel knowing that they were just two hours away from Singapore by flight?
Into its 25th year already, the ROC brings some of the greatest drivers on Earth together and has them compete on a purpose-built parallel track housed within a stadium of some sort.
Held at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok, this time’s star drivers included three-time Formula 1 world champion Vettel, seven-time Formula 1 world champion Schumacher, two-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo, three-time World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx, eight-time Le Mans 24 Hour race winner Tom Kristensen, four-time V8 Supercar champion Jamie Whincup and more.
With a common passion for racing, these drivers are the best in their respective fields and they come together to compete on a level ground at ROC.
Gates only open at six in the evening but I went earlier to browse the inaugural ‘ROC Rocks’ Festival – an exhibition outside the stadium that has huge stands by major event partners such as Red Bull, Singha, Yamaha and Toyota.
This is the time where all the race queens and car show girls come out to parade their best.
I spotted some pretty ones at the huge Toyota booth..
… but there were a few cute ones at the Red Bull stand too.
Track action began on Friday evening with two competitions – ROC Thailand to determine the top two Thai drivers who will compete in the ROC main event, as well as ROC Asia to determine the last spot for the Nations Cup and the two slots for Asian drivers in the main event.
Nattavude Charoensukawattana of the Toyota Team Thailand, 49, proved that age is just but a number and emerged tops in ROC Thailand. Finishing second was Tin Sritrai, only 23 years of age. Together, they represented Team Thailand in the ROC Nations Cup on Saturday evening.
Pairing up according to country, a total of eight teams competed in the ROC Nations Cup.
Schumacher and Vettel have been winning the Nations Cup the last five years and were confident of making a sixth consecutive title.
They easily dominated the competition and topped their group, beating Team Thailand, Team Australia’s Whincup and Mick Doohan and Team India’s Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok.
Basically one driver from each team will go against another driver from another team – for example, in the semi-final Schumacher raced against Whincup and Vettel against Doohan.
Beating the Australians, the dynamic German duo then met Team France’s pairing of Romain Grosjean and Sebastien Ogier in the final and took them down easily. This meant a sixth consecutive ROC Nations Cup win for the Schumacher-Vettel combination!
While Vettel was celebrating with donuts in the ROC dune buggy, his team-mate joined in the victory circles by hopping on, nearly falling off at one point with only one hand holding on.
In case you are wondering about the cars they use, there are seven types of vehicles altogether.
No, the tuk tuk (a type of local transport in Bangkok) wasn’t one of them. This year the vehicles used in ROC included the Audi R8 LMS…
… the Volkswagen Scirocco…
… the Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo, the Toyota GT86…
… the ROC buggy, the open-top KTM X-Bow and the NASCAR-looking Euro Racecar.
My favourite is the buggy (1.1-litre and 170bhp) because it is so small and light and the drivers look like they are having so much fun in it.
Drivers are assigned the cars for each heat and each race will feature two identical vehicles to ensure fairness. There are also passengers in every vehicle, some of whom are clearly enjoying themselves like this one here with David Coulthard.
For the main ROC event on Sunday evening, the 12 international star drivers were joined by the top two from ROC Thailand (Nattavude and Sritrai) and the fastest two individual timings of ROC Asia – Ho Pin-Tung of China and Japan’s Kazuya Oshima of Toyota Team Gazoo Japan.
Using back the same cars, the 16 drivers were split into four groups and the top two from each group will proceed to the quarter-finals. Making it through to the quarters were Schumacher, Vettel, Grosjean, Ogier, Coulthard, Kristensen, Doohan and Ho the only Asian.
Schumacher beat Doohan to earn his seat in the semi-final…
… but his German compatriot unfortunately knocked himself out of the competition when he made a mistake and hit a barrier hard during the race against Grosjean.
A great pity for the reigning Formula 1 World Champion for an otherwise perfect ending to the 2012 racing season!
Things got exciting as the final drew near. Joining Schumacher and Grosjean in the semi-finals were Coulthard, after beating Ho, and Kristensen who won the defending ROC ‘Champion of Champions’ Ogier.
Crossing the finish line quicker than Coulthard, it was Kristensen who made it to the final, along with Grosjean who created a surprise when he beat Schumacher.
Competing in the ROC for the 12th time, Kristensen was also a finalist last year but once again he fell short and lost both rounds of the final to the French Formula 1 driver. 2012 has certainly been tough on Grosjean, especially with that one-race ban he got after causing a huge multi-car pile-up in Spa, and winning the ROC was maybe a proof to himself that he does have it.
For those who are new to ROC, like a friend I had with me, it could get a tad confusing with different cars and at some point, even a bit boring as the different drivers go around the narrow contained track repeatedly. So to keep the crowd entertained, there were several shows between the runs on track, such as a demonstration run in a Red Bull Formula 1 car by Coulthard.
Lorenzo also did a demonstration run with his Yamaha bike. Having lost all three heats in the group stage, some think that Lorenzo might just be better sticking to two wheels.
Local Thai drifter Kiki Sak Nana took the Toyota 86 sideways around the track in billows of smoke…
… while Takuto Iguchi of Toyota Team Gazoo Japan drove the spanking hot Lexus LF-A in a simple showcase run.
Two-wheel stunts were performed by Chris Pfeiffer and Bill Dixon, sending gasps across the stands.
In commemoration of the 25th edition of the ROC, Terry Grant attempted a world record and did 25 donuts while standing on the roof of his car. Impressive.
Besides Beijing in 2009, the ROC has not been to Asia and this year marks only its second time on this side of the world. I do hope that the ROC will come over to Asia more often!
For more of my ROC photos, view here.