Seeing the center console on fire, Mattias Ekström kept his right foot buried, but took his right hand off the wheel to put extinguish the flames aboard the Supercar Lites. Moments later, he celebrated a fourth Race of Champions title.
Almost everything had gone to plan.
“That definitely wasn’t in the plan,” grinned the Swede after beating Mick Schumacher two-nil in a best-of-three Champion of Champions finale.
“Something caught fire. I think my co-driver wanted to stop, but I wasn’t so interested! I shut the windscreen heater off and the fire stopped.”
Ekström, who progressed to the final after knocking RoC debutant Thierry Neuville aside in the semifinal, drove beautifully throughout the weekend and was a deserving winner for the fourth time.
It was an emotional Swede who celebrated at the finish.
“More special than winning is this guy,” he said, putting an arm around Schumacher’s shoulders. “I raced Michael twice in the final and had great moments with him. It was fantastic and very emotional to race Mick here and I’m super proud to see here, he’s a huge talent and his time is ahead of him.”
Last year’s Champion of Champions Sébastien Loeb made an early exit, beaten across two races on the frozen Baltic Sea in Pite Havsbad by just 0.040 seconds by Neuville.
Despite a lack of experience of the event and the format, Neuville was looking strong on Sunday – even if his Saturday hadn’t ended the way he wanted.
Day one of the competition was given over to the Nations Cup. Saturday belonged to Team Norway and Oliver Solberg.
The 21-year-old was on outrageous form, beating Loeb, Johan Kristoffersson and Mattias Ekstrom in a day when he didn’t lose a single race. The final race of the day was versus the All Stars team and his former Hyundai team-mate Neuville.
There’s no doubting it was a sweet moment for Solberg as he crossed the line ahead of the Belgian on Saturday night.
For the second year in succession, the Solbergs and Team Norway were in firm control of the Nations Cup.
Working together on Saturday, Sunday opened with father versus son as Petter took on Oliver in the first round of the individual-based Champion of Champions.
“I won’t take it easy on him,” said Petter, “no chance! I will give it everything. If he wants to win, he’s going to have to beat me.”
So he did. Oliver won two-nil.
Sadly for Solberg Jr, by running slightly wide on a left-hander the spikes in the front-right wheel of the FC1-X caught an advertising banner which wrapped itself around the wheel and ground the car pretty much to a halt.
That he beat Neuville in the second race offered some recompense, but it was Thierry who marched on to the semifinal.
Ekström put all of his experience to good use to deliver a home win for a hardy RoC crowd who had gathered on the shores of the frozen sea in the country’s far north.
A fourth win from the likeable Swede demonstrated home fires burn as bright as ever… even when you don’t need them to.