Ekstrom and Schumacher celebrate in Beijing.
Mattias Ekstrom won the Race of Champions for the third time by beating Michael Schumacher in a scintillating final at Beijing's Birds Nest stadium.
The former DTM champion seized the initiative by winning the first leg of the “best of three” final legs in RoC cars, the Swede pulling back a 0.4-second gap at half distance to win just a quarter of that amount. He then put in an equally convincing performance in the KTM X-Bow cars to beat the seven-time Formula 1 World Champion once more and claim the title.
“It's a very special day for me, because I had a year with not much luck,” said Ekstrom. “So to end it by beating Michael Schumacher in this is fantastic.”
Ekstrom won every single one of his races during the evening, dominating his group and then beating Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen and new F1 champion Jenson Button in the knock-out stages.
Schumacher had things a little tighter on his way to the final as he beat Ford WRC star Mikko Hirvonen in the X-Bows to set up a semi-final against Red Bull F1 ace Sebastian Vettel.
“I look across at Michael on the start line and I think, ‘Why should I beat him? His driving his spotless'” Ekstrom mused. “A tenth of a second here and there isn't a lot but sometimes it is enough and driving against Michael is always a pleasure. I always pretend to be thinking about whether to come to the Race of Champions or not, but actually I'm never thinking about it.”
Schumacher said: “It has been a nice event, all in all, as always. It has the right mixture of seriousness behind the wheel and a relaxed atmosphere in which to meet some good guys.”
Heading into the final lap of their semi, the two Germans were separated by inches, but Vettel gave his countryman a route into the final by crashing into the barriers and breaking a wheel on his X-Bow.
The group stages failed to provide much in the way of surprises, with Yvan Muller and Marcus Gronholm – both of whom failed to progress from a Group D that also featured Schumacher and Coulthard – the only big names to not make the knock-out stages.
The drama came in Group A when Guerlain Chicherit crashed a Solution-F touring car for the second day running. This time he knocked the entire right-rear corner off the car while dicing with Kristensen.
Former 500cc motorcycle king Mick Doohan also made a play for biggest accident of the day as he broke the front suspension on his KTM X-bow against the concrete barrier.