Formula One hopeful humbles world's best drivers
Renault Driver Development programme member Heikki Kovalainen beat Michael Schumacher on his way to lifting the 2004 Race of Champions title in Paris on Saturday.
Kovalainen, reigning World Series by Nissan champion and occasional Formula One tester, defeated the seven-time world champion in the semi-finals at the Stade de France. He then went one better, beating world rally champion Sebastien Loeb in the final.
"I just can't believe it," exclaimed the Finn, "especially the fact that I beat rallying's World Champion in a WRC car. Amazing! And it's not every day you get a chance to beat Michael Schumacher. That was a big moment. I just tried to attack a little harder, brake a little later. And the atmosphere was great too!"
After eliminating David Coulthard in is his first match, Kovalainen then disposed of Formula One veteran Jean Alesi. That result qualified him for a place in the racers' final against Schumacher whom he promptly defeated by a little less than a second around the one-kilometre, all-asphalt, figure-of-eight track.
The first of the final's three heats was raced at the wheel of Peugeot 307 world rally cars, which theoretically gave the advantage to Loeb. Kovalainen only sat inside a WRC car for the first time just minutes before the start as Peugeot engineers talked him through the controls.
The lesson clearly worked for the Finn who immediately went out to spring a stunning victory over Loeb by 0.8s, profiting from an early mistake by the Frenchman. Switching to Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge cars for the second heat seemed to tip the advantage back in favour of Loeb who crossed the line first. However, he was deemed to have touched a barrier which earned him a 10s penalty to hand the title to his 23-year-old opponent.
Loeb did, however, turn the tables on Kovalainen later in the evening when he and Alesi took France to victory over Finland in the Nations Cup.