MIAMI – American fans of Race Of Champions will be happy to learn that the event may have found a temporary home in the United States.
The all-star racing event, held since 1988 but for the first time in the United States this past weekend, has hopes to stay for several more years and possibly return to its 2017 host city of Miami.
“Our ambition is to stay in the U.S. for three years and we have an option to stay one more year in Miami,” said Race Of Champions CEO Fredrik Johnsson. “But we have other venues that are visiting us this weekend and we’ve been contacted by other people as well that were not present in Miami this weekend.”
Marlins Park, home to the Major League Baseball team, was the venue chosen for ROC’s maiden stateside voyage in the village of Little Havana just outside of downtown Miami. Seating more than 34,000 people, the site has been the home of the Miami Marlins since 2012 and is a popular destination for events both baseball and non-baseball related.
In the past, ROC has been hosted primarily in Europe and Asia destinations such as London, Saint-Denis, Bangkok, Beijing and more. Bringing the event to the U.S. has been a long-time goal for Johnsson.
“When we started looking for a good location in the U.S., we looked at a number of different venues,” Johnsson (left) said. “In the end we thought of Florida, with the weather, and Miami in particular with its cosmopolitan population, big Latin and European influence and big passion for racing. We thought it was the perfect location.
“In a baseball stadium, the fact that the way the grandstands are positioned in Marlins Parks means that even people in the highest grandstand seats had the perfect view and were very close to the racing, more so than in any other motor racing track or a traditional soccer stadium.”
With a venue and destination city lined up, it came time to attract the stars. Seven Verizon IndyCar Series drivers participated in the Jan. 20-22 weekend event, five competing in their first ROC. Four from the INDYCAR driver lineup – 2014 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan – live in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area.
Non-INDYCAR participating drivers included 11-time Formula One race winner Felipe Massa, four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button. NASCAR’s Kurt and Kyle Busch competed as well.
“When we decided the starting list and participants, we looked at a number of different factors,” Johnsson said. “For the first event in the U.S., we obviously wanted to invite more U.S. and Latin American drivers because even the biggest Formula One starts are not that well known in this market. You’ve got a number of exceptional drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series currently, and I think four of them are Miami or South Florida residents.”
Work to identify details for the next ROC event starts right away. Johnsson has meetings lined up with Miami city leadership and venues in the next few weeks to begin the appropriate preparations.
Watch this behind-the-scenes video -- the first of three parts -- with Verizon IndyCar Series driver James Hinchcliffe wandering the ROC drivers' bullpen to talk with his fellow competitors.