Nissan World Series champion Heikki Kovalainen, 23, outdrove F1 stars Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard and Jean Alesi, and beat WRC champ Sébastien Loeb to win the Race of Champions in Paris.

Nissan World Series champion Heikki Kovalainen, 23, outdrove F1 stars Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard and Jean Alesi, and beat WRC champ Sébastien Loeb to win the Race of Champions in Paris.


"I just can't believe it," said Kovalainen, who was recently named Finnish Racing Driver of the Year. "I just tried to attack a little harder, brake a little later. Unbelievable, I beat both World Champions!"


Included in this year's RoC were F1 champion Michael Schumacher, World Rally Championship 2004 title winner Loeb, former WRC champs Marcus Gronholm and Colin McRae, Indy Racing League title winner Tony Kanaan, new Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais, and NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson (second in the title fight in 2004).


Kovalainen qualified for the final by defeating Coulthard, Alesi (now a DTM star) and Schumacher on the one-kilometre figure-of-eight track.


"I can't lie," Schumacher said. "Of course I tried to win! But I came here to enjoy myself, and I succeeded in that, at least."


Loeb, in turn, bested Kanaan, Armin Schwarz (WRC), and Gronholm to reach the final challenge against the young Finn. The two finalists ran identical Peugeot 307 WRCs in their first heat. One would have expected Loeb to have the advantage, yet Kovalainen shocked the crowd of 60 000 by beating Loeb by 0,08 seconds.


"I beat rallying's World Champion in a WRC car. Amazing! And it's not every day you get a chance to beat Michael Schumacher," said Kovalainen. "That was a big moment."


In the second heat, the two switched to equally-prepared Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge cars. Again, Kovalainen won the event even though he had not crossed the line first, as a 10-second penalty for touching a barrier cost Loeb the heat victory.


Loeb admitted that he touched the barrier and was magnanimous in defeat. "It's been an enjoyable afternoon and I love the atmosphere," said the Frenchman.


The Citroën WRC star then teamed with fellow countryman Alesi to take the Race of Champions Nations’ Cup for France. In the finals, the duo had to beat the team from Finland: Kovalainen and Gronholm.


Kovalainen held off Alesi in each of the first two heats to give Finland a 2-0 lead, but it was not to be enough to win the final, as Loeb beat Gronholm in the second pair of heats. That set the stage for a deciding round for the Nations' Cup: Loeb and Kovalainen met in a single heat to decide the title.


The final run, again in 360 Modenas, turned out to be somewhat of an anticlimax, though, as Kovalainen's car experienced an electrical problem, while Loeb sprinted to the finish to claim the Cup for France.


"In the end, it was a rather lucky win," commented Alesi. "But it's really been something exceptional to be able to race in a stadium like this.


Race of Champions – Times


Race of Champions car

Michael Schumacher 1:43,6905

Sebastien Bourdais 1:43,9553

Jean Alesi 1:44,8707

Casey Mears 1:45,4170

Heikki Kovalainen 1:45,8988

Felipe Massa 1:53,6368 (+10)

David Coulthard 1:56,9983 (+10)

Kenny Brack 1:59,0832 (+10)


Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge

Heikki Kovalainen 1:45,3851

Michael Schumacher 1:49,2940

Jean Alesi 1:50,6410

Sebastien Bourdais 1:52,5493

Sebastien Loeb 1:55,5842


Peugeot 307 WRC

Heikki Kovalainen 1:42,2602

Sebastien Loeb 1:43,0579

Marcus Gronholm 1:45,2022

Mattias Ekstrom 1:46,5447

Stephane Sarrazin 1:47,6678

Armin Schwarz 1:50,7135


Citroën Xsara WRC

Sebastien Loeb 1:44,0306

Marcus Gronholm 1:44,6967

Armin Schwarz 1:47,3488

Mattias Ekstrom 1:48,7732