Cocktails with Michael By A. Namedropper
When did you last clink glasses with Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Heikki Kovalainen, Jimmie Johnson, Travis Pastrana…?
If you had accompanied us on the Race of Champions VIP Tour to London mid-December, not only would you have chatted to these racing legends, and a dozen more European Rally, Touring Car and Endurance Race Champions, but you would have spent three whole days with them, at the track, at lunch, and out clubbing till the early hours in the West End.
As previously reported, The ROC showcases the top drivers from numerous disciplines on a unique stadium circuit, driving an assortment of cars as varied as single-seat motorcycle-engined buggies, to full race Aston Martins with Rally Car and European Touring Cars thrown in for good measure. So in essence, drivers who would never even meet each other at the track are competing in cars, most of which are totally unfamiliar to them, on a tight narrow circuit, racing two at a time, in an instant-elimination race format.
We were fortunate enough to be able to accompany the drivers, even to the closed-to-the-public Saturday practice, and when Scottish Rally driver Alister McRae handed me a suit and helmet to take me out in an Aston Martin for a few laps of practice, well, what could I say…this was particularly poignant as Alister was standing in for his brother Colin who had died tragically in a helicopter accident just a few weeks before. Indeed one of the highlights of Sunday’s race event was a driver and fan homage to this very popular World Rally Champion that moved the 55,000 British crowd to tears.
The racing was amazing and it was obvious the drivers were having fun…wives, girlfriends, kids and VIP’s were in the passenger seats of the various vehicles for just about every race, and the relaxed interaction between the drivers was a delight to watch, as was their varied abilities to drive the different cars on a narrow and unforgiving circuit.
PETER TAYLOR ADVISES TEAM USA'S TRAVIS PASTRANA
ON THE BEST LINE TO LONDON'S WEST END NIGHTCLUBS
In Saturday’s press conference all the drivers lined up for photo ops and how interesting it was to contrast Schumacher’s mature 38 years with up-and-coming stars like Vettel, Kovalainen, and Pastrana, scarcely into their twenties. But don’t let Schumi’s maturity fool anyone…he was incredible on the track, applying his remarkable skills to all kinds of vehicles, outsliding the Rally stars, and seemingly playing with some of his old adversaries like Jenson Button, sweeping by them close to the finish line to win most of his races.
But for once Schumie did not reign supreme! For the second year in succession, young Finnish rally-driving phenom Mattias Ekström won the individual championship, beating Schumi in a dramatic finale that ended with Michael’s car sideways across the track. Germany, however, did scoop the Nation’s Cup with Sebastian Vettel helping his mentor to victory after Schumi stalled on the line in his final run for Germany.
The unique opportunity to hang out with so many top drivers in a very relaxed atmosphere…no pressure, no sponsors, no teams, just race drivers having fun…was more than enjoyable. The stadium format race was exciting to watch with never a boring moment, each race lasting just a little more than two minutes. The drivers themselves were unanimous in their love of the little buggies, which they threw around the track with glee. But interestingly, NASCAR Champ Jimmie Johnson and X-Games-turned- Rally-racer Travis Pastrana for Team USA had trouble coming to grips with the British Touring cars, and four wheel drive rally cars. In fact Jimmie said that he was a lot more comfortable sliding in his NASCAR ride at 200mph than he was with four-wheel drive at 90mph!
The good news is that in a couple of years The ROC comes to the USA, probably Miami. So if you want your share of name-dropping and nightclubbing with sixteen of the world’s greatest drivers, watch this space!