What Is The Race Of Champions And Why Should You Watch It?

In standard sports like golf and tennis and boxing — just as it is with road bowling and beer pong and "hairiest back" — it's not hard to determine who is the best in the world. Or the hairiest, as it were.

In motorsports, with its various series and variety of cars — some with fenders, some without, some that go on dirt, some on pavement, some with two wheels — crowning a "champion of champions" was once a matter of speculation, bar fights and broken noses.

These days, we have the Race of Champions. It's happening this weekend, and if you're in the U.S., you can watch it with us on YouTube.com/DRIVE and right here on Jalopnik on Saturday and Sunday at 7:00pm ET. Why should you watch it? Let's take a look at what's happening.

What Is The Race Of Champions And Why Should You Watch It?

What is the Race of Champions?

In 1988, rally legend Michèle Mouton teamed up with events production company IMP to throw the first Race of Champions in Paris.

At first, the idea was to bring together the best international rally stars to compete in identical cars. Soon, racers in other genres came knocking, and since then, the ROC has hosted drivers from Formula 1, NASCAR, X-Games, Le Mans, MotoGP and Touring Cars, all competing for the "Champion of Champions" title.

(Note: American racing once had its own racing "all-star game," the International Race of Champions, or IROC (remember the Camaro?). Unfortunately for Europeans, IROC was about as "international" as is that famous house of pancakes.)

What Is The Race Of Champions And Why Should You Watch It?

What's the deal with that weird track?

The Race Of Champions launched its stadium-friendly format in 1989. The asphalt circuit comprises two parallel tracks and a crossover bridge. Drivers start side-by-side, and by the time they've both crossed the line twice they've driven exactly the same piece of tarmac. It's like a mobius strip for cars. Kind of.

Anyway, while each heat is two laps, because of the crossover point, each heat is equivalent to four times past the start/finish line.

How does the "race" part of Race of Champions work?

Simple: Two drivers compete, fastest time advances. In the super-final, the two finalists race three times. First to two wins, wins.

What are the Race of Champions events?

The ROC comprises two events, one on each day. The ROC Nations Cup aims to decide the fastest country on Earth; the Race of Champions will crown the individual "Champion of Champions."

What Is The Race Of Champions And Why Should You Watch It?

The ROC Nations Cup
Saturday, December 15, 7:00p ET

Watch it Here (U.S. only)
The Nations Cup event teams pairs of drivers from the same country (or region) — Vettel and Schumacher, for example. Each driver races head-to-head against a driver from an opposing team. If the score is tied at 1-1, the two winning drivers battle it out in a runoff round.

There's also a group stage in which nations race against every other nation in their group, with the four most successful teams progressing to the knockout semi-finals.

Group A
Team France
Sébastien Ogier, seven-time WRC winner, 2011 ROC "Champion of Champions"
Romain Grosjean, Formula 1 driver

Team Great Britain
David Coulthard, 13-time Formula 1 Grand Prix winner
Andy Priaulx, three-time FIA World Touring Car Champion

Team Americas
Ryan Hunter-Reay, IndyCar Series Champion (2012)
Benito Guerra, Production World Rally Champion, 2012

Team All Stars
Tom Kristensen, eight-time Le Mans 24 Hour race winner
Jorge Lorenzo, MotoGP World Champion (2012, 2010)

Group B
Team Germany
Sebastian Vettel, Formula 1 World Champion (2012, 2011, 2010)
Michael Schumacher, seven-time Formula 1 World Champion

Team Thailand
Nattavude Charoensukawattana
Tin Sritrai

Team Australia
Mick Doohan, five-time 500cc MotoGP World Champion
Jamie Whincup, V8 Supercar Champion (2012, 2011, 2009, 2008)

Team Asia
Narain Karthikeyan
Karun Chandhok

What Is The Race Of Champions And Why Should You Watch It?

The Race Of Champions
Sunday, December 16, 7:00p ET
Watch It Here (U.S. only)
The Race Of Champions is a knockout tournament in which drivers battle individually, through a series of head-to-head races in identical cars on that parallel track we were talking about before.

The event starts with four groups of four drivers. Drivers in each group compete against each other, with cars swapped between heats so they get to try out a variety of machinery. Winning drivers move on to the quarter-finals. From there, it's a knockout competition to get to the semi-finals and then to the Grand Final, which crowns the "Champion of Champions" in a best-of-three shootout.

Group A
Sébastien Ogier, seven-time WRC winner, 2011 ROC "Champion of Champions"
Jamie Whincup, V8 Supercar Champion (2011, 2009, 2008)
David Coulthard, 13-time Formula 1 Grand Prix winner
Benito Guerra, Production World Rally Champion, 2012

Group B
Tom Kristensen, eight-time Le Mans 24 Hour race winner
Andy Priaulx, three-time FIA World Touring Car Champion
Ho-Pin Tung, fastest qualifier from ROC Asia
Nattavude Charoensukawattana (Super Car Thailand champion 2010)

Group C
Sebastian Vettel, Formula 1 World Champion (2012, 2011, 2010)
Jorge Lorenzo, MotoGP World Champion (2012, 2010)
Mick Doohan, five-time 500cc MotoGP World Champion
Tin Sritrai (2009 AKOC Champion)

Group D
Michael Schumacher, seven-time Formula 1 World Champion
Ryan Hunter-Reay, IndyCar Series Champion (2012)
Romain Grosjean, (Lotus F1, 2012)
Kazuya Ohshima, second fastest qualifier from ROC Asia

What Is The Race Of Champions And Why Should You Watch It?

What is ROC Asia

Ahead of the two main feature events, there are two special races on Friday. First, the best drivers from Thailand will battle it out for the ROC Thailand crown. The two finalists will represent Team Thailand in the first ever ROC Asia. Team Thailand and the best-placed other team in ROC Asia will compete in the ROC Nations Cup.

Team India: Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok (UPDATE: It's over. They won.)
Team China: Han Han and Ho-Pin Tung
Toyota Team: Gazoo Japan (Kazuya Ohshima & Takuto Iguchi)
Team Thailand: The two finalists from ROC Thailand

The Cars

Check out this post for a walkthrough of all the wild vehicles they'll be using.