FIA European Formula 3 champion Esteban Ocon has become the first junior-series level champion to join the field for the Race Of Champions in Barbados this year.
Ocon joins a whole host of other champions on the grid, which includes multiple Le Mans 24 Hour race and 2013 WEC titleholder Tom Kristensen; Lotus F1 racer and reigning ROC Champion of Champions Romain Grosjean and five-time V8 Supercar champion Jamie Whincup.
Also competing at the end of year special will be Ryan Hunter-Reay (Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion), Petter Solberg (WRC and World Rallycross champion), Kurt Busch (former NASCAR champion), José-Maria Lopez (WTCC champion) and Susie Wolff (Williams F1 development driver).
The teenager, who is a member of Lotus junior team, recently tested for both Ferrari and Lotus as prizes for his title winning efforts. During a season where he won nine races, Ocon finished well ahead of F3 veteran and fellow rookie Max Verstappen to clinch the crown with Prema Powerteam.
Ahead of the ROC, Ocon said, “To come to the Race Of Champions is a dream come true. When I was a kid I came to watch it at the Stade de France in Paris so I’m really looking forward to seeing how everything works.”
For Fredrik Johnsson, organiser of the ROC, the addition of Ocon makes for an enticing prospect. “Esteban is one of the most exciting young talents in world motor sport at the moment so we are intrigued to see how he gets on at this year’s Race Of Champions.”
Remembering Heikki Kovalainen’s unlikely ROC victory against WRC legend Sebastien Loeb in 2004, Johnsson added, “We’ve had a long history of giving young chargers a chance to take on the legends and they often give the superstars a serious fright. Esteban is no exception and no one will want to be drawn against him.”
This will prove to be a step into the unknown for the 18-year-old, who has only ever raced open-top cars. “The main challenge will be to drive a car with a roof because I’ve never even tested one before – I don’t even have a driving licence! But it shouldn’t be a problem; I’m good at getting on the pace so I will adapt quickly, then we’ll see how far I am from the best.”
Johnsson, too, was keen to acknowledge Ocon’s achievements at such a tender age. “What’s most incredible is that he has achieved so much so young – all before he has even passed his driving test. That means he can’t even drive himself to races but he makes up for that on the track. The Barbados crowd are in for a real treat when they see him race.”
While also competing for individual titles, Ocon will also partner Grosjean in the Nations Cup. “I’ve known Romain for three years, ever since I started coming to the Lotus F1 Team factory. So I’m really looking forward to teaming up with him and hopefully we can achieve a good result for Team France on Saturday,” Ocon said, before adding, “Then it will be even better to try and beat him in the individual Race Of Champions on Sunday…”
After a year’s absence owing to troubles in Thailand, the Race of Champions moves to Bushy Park Circuit in Barbados from December 13th – 14th. More drivers are expected to be added to the entry list in the coming weeks.