Father and son combination Petter and Oliver Solberg have won the Nations Cup for Norway as the Race of Champions kicked off in Sweden on Saturday.
The veteran World Rally and World Rallycross champion Petter, teaming up with rising star son Oliver, took the victory after a thrilling sequence of duels that resulted in the final shootout between Team Norway and Team USA.
The Norwegians were handed an immediate advantage in the Polaris buggies, as Jimmie Johnson encountered a technical issue that saw him stop just seconds into the first heat. This handed an easy win to Solberg senior to make it 1-0, with the first to three wins deciding the Nations Cup winner.
The second heat was Solberg junior against Colton Herta in the RX2E electric rally cars, with Solberg winning out to make it 2-0 to Norway and placing all the pressure on the USA for the third heat to stop the Norwegian onslaught.
The younger Solberg was given the responsibility of the third heat and, with F1's Sebastian Vettel as his passenger, lined up in the Porsche to take on Johnson for the crunch head-to-head.
Johnson kept the US challenge alive into the fourth heat, as he beat the teenager by 1.6 seconds in the Porsches to set up Solberg senior against Herta for the tense showdown as the USA tried to keep the fight going into the final heat.
But, with the fourth heat using the rallycross cars, it was perhaps no surprise that the veteran Solberg won out as Herta hit the snow at the hairpin – handing a convincing win to Norway.
Team USA spring a surprise through the semi-finals
Team Finland, Team Norway, Team USA and Team Nordic all mastered the snowy conditions to make it into the semi-finals, with the first of them being a match-up between the USA and Finland.
Johnson beat Emma Kimilainen in the RX2E electric rally cars to make it 1-0 to the USA, with Mika Hakkinen striking back for Finland moments later as he beat Herta by six-tenths of a second in the Polaris buggies – the IndyCar driver making a costly error at the hairpin.
But Finland's challenge faded badly in the third heat, in the Porsches, as Hakkinen hit the snow bank and spun around – the mistake costing him significant time as he crawled over the line a distant second to Johnson.
The mistake meant that Herta had the luxury of a 20-second gap over Kimilainen for the final heat, and he did not put a wheel wrong. Coming home two seconds clear of the W Series driver, Team USA booked their place in the final.
Johan Kristoffersson won the first heat of the second semi-final, beating Solberg senior by a second in the Polaris buggies to hand Team Nordic the advantage early on. That advantage was eroded minutes later, as Solberg junior beat Tom Kristensen in the RX2E cars to make it 1-1 heading into the third heat.
Solberg junior then defeated Kristoffersson in the Porsches, with both drivers struggling to get the cumbersome cars around the hairpin. Solberg's win meant that Team Norway were primed to get through to the final, provided Solberg senior did not lose to Kristensen by more than three seconds.
Kristensen won the final heat, as Solberg senior made a big mistake that saw him riding the snow bank approaching the hairpin – a mistake he was fortunate to get away with. Despite the error, the Solbergs survived to get Team Norway into the final as Kristensen and Kristoffersson were sent packing.
F1 stars fall by the wayside
With Hakkinen being the only F1 name to make it through to the semi-finals, it was notable that all the other F1 representatives struggled in the ice and snow to make it past the quarter-finals.
Team GB were knocked out by Team Finland, with Jamie Chadwick making an error in the Porsche that resulted in her getting stuck in the snow bank and handing an easy win to Kimilainen, while Hakkinen beat David Coulthard as their heat reignited their rivalry as McLaren teammates more than 20 years ago.
Team Germany also failed to make it through, with Vettel proving to be the weak link as he lost both of his heats against Johnson and Herta to add to his early loss to eSports racer Lucas Blakeley. Mick Schumacher fared considerably better, winning both of his heats but losing out as a result of Vettel's defeats.
The Race of Champions returns on Sunday, with every driver targeting individual glory. The racing resumes from 12:00 CET on the ice in Sweden.
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