Germany claimed its third straight Race of Champions Nations Cup at Beijing's Birds Nest stadium thanks to the superlative efforts of Michael Schumacher and Red Bull Formula 1 star Sebastian Vettel.
The German duo, who lost just two of its 12 races throughout the event, beat Team GB 2-1 in the final after earlier winning a hard-fought semi against American duo Travis Pastrana and Tanner Foust.
Seven-time F1 champion Schumacher cast the first stone in the final, beating current title holder Jenson Button in the RoC cars, but Andy Priaulx redressed the balance in heat two as his rival Vettel spun his Ford Focus WRC at mid-distance.
It all came down to a winner-takes-all finale, with Schumacher beating Priaulx back in the RoC cars by a little over a second. The success makes Germany the most successful nation in Nations Cup history.
“We had a nice fight – I just come back to this event to use whatever there is left of a talent,” said Schumacher, who also fought off a strong challenge from Team USA's Foust in the semi final. “With this track, it's just a case of watching where the other guy is to know how hard to push. Of course, the racing is the highlight but the other stuff that goes on around that is part of the relaxed atmosphere of the Race of Champions that we all enjoy.”
Vettel added: “To win three times in a row is something that no one has done before, so it's a real reason to be proud.”
It was Button's first trip to the ROC Nations Cup final, and the newly crowned World Champion quipped, “To be out there celebrating being the first loser is never best, I don't like finishing second. It was a lot of fun – I spent most of the evening trying to hang on to my teammate's coat-tails.”
Britain's route into the final had come at the expense of surprise team China. The home team, comprising A1GP racer Ho-Pin Tung and rally driver Han Han, surprisingly each won their group races against Australia's Mick Doohan and Chad Reed, before Tung brought the Beijing crowd to its feet with a remarkable win over WRC star Mikko Hirvonen in the RX150 buggies. But, despite Tung beating Priaulx after the Brit was given a five-second penalty for jumping the start, he and Han were no match for the duo of Priaulx and Button.
The earlier group stages failed to provide many other highlights, although the Group Three contest between Scandinavia and France was a cracker.
First, multiple Le Mans 24 Hours winner Tom Kristensen, who was racing against WTCC champion Yvan Muller, clipped the barrier on the entrance to the tunnel, launched his KTM X-bow into the air, and spun off. Then, in the next encounter, Mattias Ekstrom broke the suspension on his Solution F prototype after landing heavily after a jump. Just as he was trying to keep the car out of the wall, rival Guerlain Chicherit spun backwards into the barrier to retire for good.
The Race of Champions main event takes place on Wednesday.