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Indy 500 champion Montoya wins ROC

First-timer Juan Pablo Montoya beat out 15-time entrant Tom Kristensen

Published: January 22, 2017, 2:30 AM
Updated: January 26, 2017, 4:49 AM

Juan Pablo Montoya in 2017 Race of Champions

Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya has been crowned Champion of Champions, following his defeat of Le Mans Champion Tom Kristensen in the Race of Champions (ROC) Grand Final.

It was the Colombian’s first time in the ROC event, which pits motor racing drivers (many of them winners in major series and/or races) racing head-to-head in identical cars in a World Cup style tournament (group stages followed by elimination legs).

“Today I’m regretting not having done this before. It has been an amazing experience,” said Montoya, following his coronation. “It’s a fun event. It’s unbelievable how focused you are. It’s like qualifying. I don’t know what gave me the edge. It went well … must be beginner’s luck!”

The tournament started off with four groups of four, with Montoya matching Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa with two wins apiece in Group B, eliminating World Rallycross champion Petter Solberg and F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Nine-time Le Mans winner Kristensen has yet to triumph in the championship that has been staged 28 times (annually, except for 2015 and 2016) since 1988, although he has made it to the final five times in his 15 appearances. He came second in Group D behind Former F1 Driver David Coulthard (who won the ROC in 2014). They beat out NASCAR champion Kurt Busch and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter Reay.

“I’ve been retired for two years but coming here of course you don’t forget what you live for,” said Kristensen of his motivation in the event. “We are racing drivers and to be invited to the Race of Champions brings the best out of us. The camaraderie is special.”

Massa and Coulthard both made it as far as the semi-finals, swept out 2-0 to Montoya and Kristensen, respectively, in the best-of-3 format. Massa had beaten out 3-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who had finished second in Group A behind Xtreme sports star Travis Pastrana, and ahead of 4-time F1 champion and defending ROC champion Sebastian Vettel, and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (who had earlier prevailed in a qualifier against Global Rallycross Champion Scott Speed).

Coulthard beat out Kyle Busch in his quarter-final. Busch had placed second in Group C behind 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button, and ahead of IndyCar drivers Tony Kanaan and Canadian James Hinchcliffe. Button lost in his quarter final to Kristensen, while Montoya beat Pastrana in his quarter final.

The weekend event also included a skills competition, won by last year’s Indy 500 polesitter Hinchcliffe over Vettel, and a charity auction of an ROC Art Car, a limited-edition ROC watch from Louis Moinet, and signed racing gear from all the drivers.