Friday, January 20, 2017

2017 Race of Champions Preview

The 28th Race of Champions takes place this weekend and for the first time the event comes the United States as Marlins Park in Miami, Florida hosts the two-day competition.

This year's race will see the individual, Champion of Champions competition take place on Saturday with the Nations' Cup to be contested on Sunday followed by a new Ryder Cup-style, America vs. the World event to close the competition on Sunday.

Seventeen drivers will compete in the Champion of Champions competition on Saturday across four groups.

Defending Champion of Champions champion Sebastian Vettel will defend his title and looks to join Stig Blomqvist, Didier Auriol and Mattias Ekström as repeat winners of the competition. Vettel headlines Group A. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castorneves makes his debut and will also be in Group A. Travis Pastrana returns to Race of Champions for the first time since 2011 and this will be Pastrana's eighth appearance in ROC. In Pastrana's three previous ROC appearances since the group stage format was introduced, he has won one of nine races. The final spot in Group A will be determined by a playoff between 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi and defending two-time Global Rallycross champion Scott Speed, both making their ROC debuts. Speed was going to compete in 2006 competition after Jimmie Johnson withdrew due to injury but Speed himself had to withdraw due to illness.

Group B is led by 2003 World Rally Champion and two-time World Rallycross champion Petter Solberg. This will be Solberg's fourth ROC appearance. He best result in the Champion of Champions competition is the quarterfinals. Newly hired Sauber F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein returns for his third consecutive ROC appearance. He finished runner-up on debut in 2014 to David Coulthard in Barbados. Felipe Massa returns to ROC for the fourth time. Massa is a two-time quarterfinalist. IndyCar champion, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and seven-time Formula One grand prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya makes his ROC debut in Group B.

Jenson Button is the senior member of Group C as the 2009 World Drivers' Champion makes his sixth ROC appearance. Button's best result in the Champion of Champions competition was a semifinal appearance in 2009. Tony Kanaan returns to ROC for the first time since 2004. He was eliminated in the first round of Champion of Champions that year by eventual runner-up Sébastien Loeb. Debutants Kyle Busch and James Hinchcliffe round out Group C.

Group D will have four-time Champion of Champions runner-up Tom Kristensen make his 15th consecutive ROC appearance and he ties Stig Blomqvist for most ROC appearances. Kristensen will try to finally breakthrough to the top of bracket after finishing runner-up last year to Vettel. David Coulthard will make his tenth ROC appearance and try to reclaim the Champion of Champions title for the second time in the last three competitions. Ryan Hunter-Reay makes his fourth ROC appearance. The IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 failed to get out of the group round in 2012, was a quarterfinalist in 2014 and was eliminated in round one last year. Kurt Busch makes his second ROC appearance. He was a quarterfinalist in 2014.

The top two from each group will advance to the knockout competition. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be single-elimination with the final featuring a best-of-three format.

Sunday's Nations' Cup will see ten pairings of two drivers split between three groups.

Group A will feature all North American pairings. Hunter-Reay and Rossi will pair to form Team USA IndyCar with the Busch brothers forming Team USA NASCAR and Pastrana and Speed forming Team USA Rally X. Hinchcliffe leads Team ROC Factor Canada with former Indy Lights driver and Nissan Micra Cup driver Stefan Rzadzinski making his debut. Rzadzinki's spot in the competition was decided by a fan vote.

Group B features all European teams as Vettel and Wehrlein represent Germany, Button and Coulthard represent Great Britain and Kristensen and Solberg form Team Nordic. Last year, England 1 featuring BTCC driver Jason Plato and Ford factory driver Andy Priaulx upset the German pairing of Vettel and Nico Hülkenberg to win Nations' Cup. Vettel had won six consecutive Nations' Cup representing Germany from 2007-2012. No German team contested the next competition in 2014, where Kristensen and Solberg won the Nations' Cup as Team Nordic by defeating the British pairing of Coulthard and Susie Wolff.

Group C is an all-South America affair. Kanaan and Massa represent Brazil while Montoya will be joined by 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year and 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves. The final team in Group C will be Team ROC Factor Latin American with Hélio Castroneves pairing with Argentine Gabriel Glusman. Like Rzadzinski, Glusman's spot in the competition was decided by a fan vote.

For the Nations' Cup the top two in Group A will advance and meet in the first semifinal while only the group winners from Group B and Group C will advance and meet each other in the final. The semifinals and final will feature a best-of-three format with the winners of race one and two meeting in the third race.

The concluding event on Sunday will be the America vs. The World competition. The six American drivers will take on the top drivers from the rest of the world in a three-round, two-race competition. Round one will feature six races each worth one point for the winner. Round two will feature three races worth two points for the winner. Round three will feature one race worth three points for the winner. The first team to amass at least eight points will be winner of the America vs The World competition.

The track for this year's Race of Champions will feature two loops and a total length of 0.3809 miles (613 meters). Drivers will start side-by-side on the main straightaway and head in the same direction. One driver will make a left-hand turn and complete loop A while the other driver will make a right-hand turn and complete loop B. When drivers return to the main straightaway the driver will cross over and complete the other loop. The first driver to complete each loop will win the race.

Saturday's Champion of Champions competition will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with Sunday's Nations' Cup scheduled for a noon ET start.