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Mattias Ekström silenced the Parisian crowd at the Stadium of France with a surprise win over home star Sébastien Loeb to claim victory in the 2006 Race of Champions.

It took the Swede just two races in the best-of-three Super-Final shoot-out to see off the three-time World Rally Champion. He also twisted the knife in the wound by defeating the Frenchman in the opening race, which saw them compete in identical Citroën Xsara WRCs, the car that has taken Loeb to three straight world rally crowns.  

"I'm absolutely thrilled to have won The Race of Champions," said the euphoric Swede. "It's the best moment in my life. Better even than winning my DTM title in 2004. And I'm especially proud to have beaten Loeb in his own car. I knew before that race that it would be tough and I just told myself to go for it. I didn't get off to a very good start but then the adrenalin kicked in and I fought back. Unbelievable."

On his arrival at the event, the Swedish all-rounder, who has competed in this year's DTM as well as in two rounds of the World Rally Championship, was in fact feeling sick.

"When I woke up this morning I had a bad stomach and I've eaten nothing all day," he revealed. "But I really wanted to get a good result and I definitely didn't like being knocked out of the ROC-Nations Cup with Tom Kristensen so early on. This is the type of circuit where if you make just one mistake it's finished. And if you only give it 99% you are beaten. To beat Seb in his own car you need to be absolutely spot on."

Defeated finalist Sébastien Loeb, who was making his return to the competitive arena after sustaining an arm injury while mountain biking last September, was swift to praise Ekström for his performance.

"Mattias is quick on a rally  stage and also quick on a race circuit. And on top of that he drove very well today. He deserves to be champion. I was especially impressed by his speed in the Xsara WRC. It was a close run, but he then left me standing in our race with the Renault Mégane Trophy."

Ekström began the competition by beating his fellow DTM runner – and reigning champion – Bernd Schneider, before dispensing with Heikki Kovalainen by a mere 2/1000ths of a second in the Drivers Group semi-final.

"I think he was the toughest one to beat," Ekstrom said. "That was tough and he has more experience with the Mégane. At the end of the race I didn't know who had won."

The last 'racer' in his path on his way to the super-final was another Frenchman, Sébastien Bourdais.

"I was a bit behind in my race against Ekström," admitted the 2006 Champ Car Champion, "so I started to push and then I locked my front wheels. I knew at once that I was in trouble and I hit the tyre wall."

Meanwhile, Loeb progressively picked off Spaniard Nani Roma, ROC-Nations Cup hero Travis Pastrana and finally Colin McRae.

"I did a good job," reported the Scot, "but to beat Seb Loeb in a Citroen is never easy. I could only give it my best shot."

IMP President and The Race of Champions organiser Fredrik Johnsson then announced a new venue for The Race of Champions – Nations Cup in 2007.

"I want to say a huge thank you to everyone at the Stade de France and the fantastic French fans for the three great years we have had here. For 2007, we have been talking to some of the world's most prestigious stadiums and I can tell you this evening that the 20th anniversary event will take place next year at the new Wembley Stadium in London, England. But we do hope to be able to come back here to Paris again some time in the future."

 



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