Mattias Ekstrom has defended the Race of Champions title after storming to victory in the annual end of season event at Wembley Stadium.

The Audi DTM star beat Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher in the best of three final to become the first man to defend the title since Didier Auriol back in 1994.

The opening race of the first round saw Schumacher up against Henning Solberg in the Solution F Touring Car with the Race of Champions running to a straight knock-out format meaning no second chance. As it was, Schumacher didn't need a second chance as he had done in the Nations Cup as he won to knock rookie Solberg out. Next up came another cross-border fight with Jenson Button up against Alister McRae in the ROC Buggy. In a closely fought battle that saw both drivers pick up a yellow card for brushing the wall, Button prevailed to set up an all-F1 quarter-final.

The Solution F was back on track for the third heat, with two champions from American racing going head-to-head in the shape of Jimmie Johnson and Sebastien Bourdais. Johnson led at the half-way point against the Frenchman as the NASCAR man seemed more at home than he had earlier in the rally car but Bourdais fought back over the second lap to take victory and make it to the quarter-final. The fourth heat saw David Coulthard secure his place in the quarter-final in simple fashion after his opponent Petter Solberg spun his ROC Buggy on the opening lap and lost more than ten seconds as a result. It meant four F1 drivers had made it through in the top half of the draw.

Next up, the battle from the Nations Cup was relived with Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastian Vettel doing battle in the Solution F. At half-way, Kovalainen led by little more than two-tenths of a second but Vettel closed in as they came towards the finish. However, the Finn had enough of a lead to secure his passage to the quarter-final and prevent Vettel from doubling up.

The big race of the opening round was the sixth heat between World Touring Car Championship rivals Andy Priaulx and Yvan Muller. Priaulx led after lap one while Muller tagged the wall with his ROC Buggy and the Guernseyman extended his lead on lap two to take a comfortable win and become the first non-F1 racer in the quarter-final.

The penultimate race was the all-Scandanavian affair with Ekstrom - the defending champion - up against Tom Kristensen. Ekstrom led in the Solution F after the opening lap by a second and he secured his place in the quarter-final by just over a second as his Nations Cup team-mate fell at the first hurdle.

The final race of the opening round was Marcus Gronholm against Travis Pastrana, with Gronholm at the wheel of somethong other than his Ford Focus WRC for the first time. Pastrana made a slightly better start with his ROC Buggy than Gronholm and the American led at the end of the opening lap by just over a second. Despite the best efforts of Gronholm to close the gap, Pastrana extended his lead to secure a quarter-final with Ekstrom.

The England-Germany battle kicked off the quarter-finals with Schumacher up against Button in the ROC Buggies. Schumacher had beaten the Honda Racing man during the Nations Cup - albeit in the Solution F - and led by six tenths of a second at the end of the opening lap. Button couldn't close the gap and Germany beat England at Wembley once again as Schumacher moved into the semi-finals.

Quarter-final two saw DC against fellow Red Bull-backed driver Bourdais with both drivers making good starts with the Solution F. Bourdais led by half a second after lap one leaving Coulthard with work to do on lap two but the British driver failed again as Bourdais took his place alongside Schumacher in the semi-final.

Priaulx was hoping that a British car would carry him to the semi-final as he lined up alongside Kovalainen in the Aston Martin N24 for the third quarter-final. Kovalainen made a better start as Priaulx appeared to bog down and it was the McLaren F1 man who led by two tenths of a second after lap one. Priaulx closed in and the two were side-by-side coming out of the final corner, only for Kovalainen to overcook it on the inside line, spinning sideways across the line and then into the barrier. While that was happening, Priaulx stole victory - to the delight of the Wembley crowd - by under a tenth of a second.

After a delay to rebuild the damaged barrier - and remove parts of Aston Martin from the circuit - came Ekstrom against Pastrana in the Focus WRC. Both drivers hit the wall on the opening lap but Ekstrom held the lead and the Swede was unable to be caught as he made it through to face Priaulx in the semi-final as Pastrana was handed a five second penalty for making contact with the wall a second time.

Bourdais made a fine start against Schumacher in the first semi-final, and at the half-way point, the two ROC Buggies were almost together - although the German had opened a slender three tenths of a second lead. Bourdais couldn't respond and Schumacher showed he has lost none of his speed to take his place in the final.

It left tin-top racers Priaulx and Ekstrom going head-to-head for a place against the German, although both seemed hesitant off the line. At half-way, Ekstrom led by eight tenths of a second leaving Priaulx with work to do to make it through. The Guernsyman couldn't do it however and overcooked it on the final lap as he tried to catch up - spinning into the sand on the inside of the circuit as Ekstrom made the final for the second successive year.

Unlike the other rounds, the final was a best of three event with the opening heat taking place in the Solution F Touring Car. Ekstrom led at the half-way point and for once, there was no response from Schumacher as the defending champion took a one race lead.

Heat two saw the pair switch to the ROC Buggy and at the start it was Schumacher who got a slightly better getaway off the line. It was tight at the end of the opening lap with the German half a second ahead and Ekstrom knew he had his work cut out to stop it going to a tie-break. The Swede couldn't do it however - with Schumacher taking it to a third and deciding race.

The deciding heat came down to the Solution F once again - with two laps of the Wembley track to decide if Ekstrom would defend his title or if Schumacher would win for the first time. Ekstrom made a better start on the inside and led after the opening lap - leaving Schumacher needing another lap record to take the title. However, Schumacher couldn't bounce back as Ekstrom won - with Schumacher spinning out on the final corner as he tried to close in.

 

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