Colton Herta Jimmie Johnson

As Jimmie Johnson and Colton Herta prepared this week for the Nations Cup competition in the Race of Champions (ROC) Snow + Ice Final in Pite Havsbad, Sweden, Johnson summed up the duo’s chances of success in their first race on ice with a typically self-effacing remark.

“Team USA is made up of two Californian guys who have never driven on snow and ice before,” Johnson said with a laugh. “What could go wrong?”

Not nearly as much as the California Kids – or the global motorsport community assembled for the unique all-star event – may have expected.

The two NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers who grew up amid palm trees in Southern California fell just short of toppling two Norwegians who have lived their entire lives in ice and snow in the dramatic final of the Nations Cup competition Saturday, Feb. 5.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Johnson and Andretti Autosport’s Herta lost to 2003 World Rally Champion Petter Solberg of Norway and his son, current WRC phenom Oliver Solberg, in the final that took place on the frozen Baltic Sea just 60 miles from the Arctic Circle. Herta was a late replacement for action sports superstar and rally driver Travis Pastrana, who was injured in a base-jumping accident.

“Our original goal was not to get knocked out in the first round, so when we won that we were jumping up and down and celebrating like we’d won the whole thing!” Herta said. “Certainly, nobody could have thought we’d make it to the final. But we had a plan, we stuck to it, and here we are.

“It was awesome to race against these guys, and particularly the Solbergs in the final. The conditions weren’t too bad today, depending on which car you were driving – but maybe we’re not experienced enough to know when conditions are good and bad! Our approach was just ‘Send it and see what happens …’”

Drivers in the team competition raced a mix of cars, including the FIA RX2e electric rallycross car, Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport,100% fossil-free biofuel powered SuperCar Lites and the off-road Polaris RZR PRO XP.

The Solbergs beat Johnson and Herta three heats to one in the final after the American duo shocked another Nordic tandem used to snow and ice, two-time Formula One World Champion Mika Hakkinen and Emma Kimilainen of Team Finland, in the semifinals.

In the first heat of the final, Petter Solberg won easily after Johnson had a mechanical problem. Oliver Solberg then beat Herta to give Team Norway a 2-0 lead, but Johnson beat the younger Solberg in Porsche 718 Caymans in the next round to trim the gap to 2-1. But Petter Solberg then sealed the title with a victory over Herta in the fourth heat.

“This is crazy!” said Oliver Solberg, 20. “I’m shocked because doing this together as father and son is very emotional. We had fantastic teamwork, and it shows we work well together. It’s been a dream come true to come to the Race Of Champions with all the legends who I look up to, like Jimmie. There are so many stars here and so much experience to take in. They’re all so humble and nice to me, so it’s been a fun time.”

The victory over Hakkinen and Kimilainen in the semifinals was the second straight stunner for Johnson and Herta. They teamed up to beat Team Germany’s lineup of F1 stars Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher in the quarterfinals after a countback of fastest lap times broke a 2-2 draw.

Herta and Johnson also needed a countback in the first round to beat the Team Latin America pairing of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves of Meyer Shank Racing and Benito Guerra.

“The Race Of Champions is such a special event because you switch between different cars, so no one is very comfortable,” Johnson said. “You have to forget the experience and try to tackle what’s in front of you.

“On the start line, I tried not to think about who I was racing, I just tried to stay within my means, be smart and drive the car. If you get through the rounds, you have a chance to go up against amazing guys, and to see names like Vettel and Schumacher is mind-blowing.”

Johnson and Herta both were eliminated Sunday in the quarterfinals of individual Race Of Champions, a straight battle between drivers for the coveted title of ROC Champion of Champions. Johnson lost to nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen of Denmark, while Herta lost to four-time F1 World Champion Vettel in a countback of fastest times after they tied, 1-1, in the two heats.

Castroneves was Herta's victim in the first round Sunday during a matchup of NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winners. Nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb beat Vettel in the final to win the Champion of Champions trophy for a record-tying fourth time.