2009 Race of Champions – Click above for high-res image gallery
Every year, around the world, drivers compete wheel to wheel in all manner of racing series, from rally to F1, touring cars to Le Mans and everything in between. It gives racing fans plenty of varied action to follow, but it leaves one question ultimately unanswered: who is the world's best driver? That's where the Race of Champions comes in.
The event has been held every year since 1988 at the end of the regular racing season, giving the world's best from all manner of racing series the world over a chance to compete against one another on equal footing and common ground. And this year's Race of Champions was no less decisive. Follow the jump to read who claimed victory as the champion of champions.
Following two years in London, three in Paris and eleven on Grand Canary Island, this year marked the first time the Race of Champions was held in China, at the Bird's Nest stadium built for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. You might have figured the remote location would keep some of the big names away, but this year's RoC boasted a roster packed with multiple champions. Among those competing for top honors were seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher, eight-time Le Mans winner Tom Kirstensen, five-time Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro, five-time MotoGP champion Michael Doohan, triple World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx and double World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm, to say nothing of freshly crowned F1 champion Jenson Button, reigning Dakar Rally winner Giniel de Villiers, and DTM champion and multiple RoC winner Mattias Ekstrom.
This unparalleled roster of champions took to the wheels of a varied paddock of machinery, including the Ford Focus WRC, Volkswagen Scirocco, KTM X-Bow, Solution F Prototype Opel touring car and three different specially-equipped sprint cars.
As the event progressed Wednesday through a series of heats, it was Ekstrom – winner of the event in 2006 and 2007 – who emerged as the indomitable force. After defeating every one of his adversaries and fellow champions, the former DTM champ dispensed with Kristensen and Button in the penultimate stages before squaring off against the biggest champion of them all: Michael Schumacher.
Climbing into the cockpits of the KTM X-Bows, Ekstrom and Schumacher battled tooth and nail only for the touring car maven to inch out the F1 legend by mere inches to the finish line.
All was not lost, however, for Schumacher, even in the limelight of Ekstrom's third RoC title. Together with Sebastian Vettel – winner of five Formula One grands prix, the youngest grand prix winner in F1 history and runner-up in this year's championship – Schumacher won the Nations' Cup for Team Germany for the third year running, making Deutschland the most successful country in the event's history.
The sailing for the German F1 pairing young and old was anything but smooth, however, as the British team – comprised of champions Button and Priaulx – put up a hard fight. The American team of Travis Pastrana and Tanner Foust mounted a valiant effort in the face of such victorious competition, while the local team – made up of Chinese Rally Champion Han Han and A1GP racer Ho-Pin Tung – emerged as the surprise element of the Tuesday national competition.
The two-day event was packed with exciting race action. And most importantly, it settled that ultimate question. Ekstrom emerged once again as the best driver in the world, and Germany the breeding ground of champions. At least, that is, until next year.