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Gabriele Tarquini PDF Print E-mail

The oldest World Champion in motorsport.

Gabriele Tarquini is the quintessential race car driver. Mature - he is 51- lean, almost skinny in sportsman terms and Italian. He talks with his hands – the same hands that have raced cars across the globe from Formula 1 to tin-tops and helped him to become the oldest ever FIA World Champion when he won the 2009 World Touring Car Championship.
Earlier this season the new Honda Racing outfit was chasing targets to develop the new Civic during a frantic series of race events with little time for private testing. And Tarquini got podium results right from the start but also had an accident in Marrakesh. Then it all came good at the Slovakia race with Hondas crossing the line 1, 2 and 3 overall with much tearful emotions.


Jeff Heselwood then spoke to the veteran Tarquini, minutes before he ended up in the ambulance and medical centre after a 4G body-shaking crash at the Hungaroring circuit mid-season. After initial worries this tough old racer emerged smiling and positive. Where will he be when the WTCC comes to Macau?  In 2009 he became the world’s oldest motorsport champion. How did it feel after all this time?
“It made me feel proud really, I don’t know what I was expecting. I think Fangio was a similar age but he was in grand prix racing which must have been much harder in his time.
“For me it was a very good year that made me champion, I had been very close in 2008 and the team and car was working very well. I chased Yvan (Muller) to the last race. I know I did not make a lot of mistakes in the year, but it was a big long fight with Yvan.
“When I took the trophy I thought, yes, 25 years after I went karting and wanted to be a racing driver. I was lucky but I also worked very hard. I learned from everyone and all during my younger years, even in the Formula 1 years I was learning all the time - not just about driving but about the car, how to work with the team, how to hold myself and say the correct things. Twenty-five years racing and I was a World Champion – that was a great feeling.”

“I know you are going to ask me about retirement. At that time – yes people spoke with me and I started to think about it but I had nothing to do, I mean nothing else I wanted to do. As I collected the trophies in the winter I thought – I’m fit, happy to race, seem to be quick enough, want to prove myself at each and every race and enjoy the life – so I said no to retiring then. Perhaps in the future when I have some more trophies!!!”
Gabriele is now over-50 but evidently still very competitive. How does he stay motivated?
“ Really there are no secrets – I feel the racing in my body all the time and I enjoy the racing, the motorsport. It is and has been in my life always; it is not difficult for me to focus on race driving, I think if you have other interests such as big business jobs then you can’t do the driving, I focused on driving. If you have other interests, in the end you lose focus on the racing.
“Since I was eight-years-old, I wanted to race cars on the track. And then I wanted to be the best, fastest or number one across the line. For me being this age is not a handicap, I am not trying to show people how good I am: that’s past, now I want recognition as the fastest driver.”

Formula 1
Tarquini raced for four relatively under-funded F1 teams and did not therefore enjoy the success he perhaps deserved.
“I really have no regrets, none at all. I started in formula racing dreaming to be a Formula 1 driver. When I had my chance my target was to put the car on the grid as best as possible. In those times sometimes it was possible, sometimes no. It was hard work and we tried so much. The target was always to put the car on the grid - then we had a chance, a chance to eat with money from the sponsors and also to show that we could race. In those days there was 40 cars perhaps, all running to try and get on the grid, with perhaps 26 managing to set the grid.
“I was there in the days of Senna, Patrese, Rosberg, Alboretto, all those guys. I enjoyed it a lot but looking back I was never in the right car at the right moment, Most of the time there was no budget. I was asked to drive because I was fast, the teams hoped that we could get a result and money would come but it never happened. I could not bring money but they asked me to drive because I was known to be fast. I enjoyed those years, no regrets and it taught me so much, not just about the car again but how the world works, and that stays with me always, even now.”

Gabriele switched from SEAT to Honda this year. He explains: “I remember when I moved to SEAT in 2005, for the 2006 season it was hard testing all the time, It was not easy to get on top but by 2008 we had a winning car. There were problems with the budgets and the teams and it took some years. For the Honda project it can grow up much quicker than the SEAT. Think now, only my fourth race and we have great results already: we are still learning the car, where are we in the potential, nobody really knows, perhaps today we are at 90% or maybe only at 40% but we have a race victory already so that is a great first season. For sure the Honda team is able to grow fast and we have a fantastic job to reach the top in such little time.
“Remember I have the experience of the races before so I know really what is required to get the results. But also, it is getting faster all the time, Last year’s winning car is still here but without the factory support. It should be slower but I know that team and they have still some things to throw at us. We try some things at every race to understand how this car works, The Honda is very young: it took ages to get the answers for the Leon and we need miles to get the experience of this new car.
“It is good for feed- back and we have a great team of engineers, But there is little time between races – so far this year we have had six races in three months and travelled across Europe and also to Africa so we never get to test once the season has started. But it is the same for everyone so that team from last year will have knowledge and how to win.
“The Civic is not far away I can tell. The engine is still growing, the driveability is very good and I can put the car anywhere on the track. We need to have a bit more top speed . The package is very, very good but yet we need more time. We are certain to be closing the gap on Chevy at every race.”


The Honda Civic
“For sure the Civic has the best package. We tested last year at Bratislava and the results showed that with the test data we can make the Honda really competitive. In Porto we should be very competitive as well, Tiago lives at the circuit in the city and has lots of experience there so he should set the pace. We will see when we get there. Going to Salzburgring, it is a very high speed circuit, and we have difficulties with high top speed. It is not best for us but we will see. It is a long season for sure and how we start is not really how we finish. If we can make the car better all the time at the end of the year at Macau we should be on the podium, but remember the Civic was on the podium in Malaysia last year when Tiago drove brilliantly and got a result in only the third race for the Honda.
“I am happy to race on all circuits. It does not matter to me if they are fast or technical. Of course I like Monza but this year the weather was shit and it was not fun. The race in Slovakia worked very well for us so I enjoyed that. Marrakesh is not a good circuit, it is too tight and the walls too close but anyway we have to race there and all the circuits so I don’t mind where we race. It is the same for all the drivers.”

Tiago Monteiro
“Tiago is a fantastic teammate, we share all the information all the time so we really work for the team. I know Tiago from the SEAT time and we have always been friendly and this is still very good now we are together at Honda. It has been useful to be friends before joining up together for this team as it saves so much time.
“Normally a new team will spend time bringing the two new drivers together but as friends we have moved in straight away. I have also known the JAS team for a long time: some of the mechanics have worked with me in older teams and being Italian it is pretty easy for me to join the team up close. There was harmony right from the first day and we are only trying to make the team and the car into winners.
“We share all the information together, there is nothing hidden for me. We are trying to get results and it is good that we work so closely as we can both try different settings in the short test sessions and then compare the results. The Honda Racing team is very clever at running two test plans at the same time. It is important to do this as we have little time at each race. We have a good spread of talents in the Honda team now especially with the young driver from Hungary. Norbert (Michelisz) is very quick but I don’t really know his driving style yet. I have given them some ideas for set up and when he shows so quick as in Hungary we have to say that is good.
“I would say Tiago has a very, very similar style to me. Perhaps I can accept a little more oversteer to his liking but really to make the Honda fast we have to have the same balance in the car all the time.  I am always looking to learn from any driver even in my team. There is always one point where they are quicker so you have to look at that and say how does it go. I am happy to say that I learn every day for all the drivers and this is important. I do not make the analysis of a style I just look to see where he is quick and try to work out how that is and then I can be as quick on that section too.”

Macau 2013
“It has to be good news! Tiago got a great result in Macau in 2012 and was on the podium in only the third race for the Civic. OK, so it has changed a lot since then but that set the standard and we need to end the season on the best note. You are talking to me halfway through the busy season and we have hardly had time to settle down. We crashed the cars in Marrakesh. But remember we were 1, 2 and 3 in Slovakia and everyone said ‘Is this the start of the Honda domination?’. Results in the WTCC are hard to achieve, it is tough and very, very competitive so where we will be by the time you print this at Macau I really don’t know. But for sure we will have worked hard on the car and the set-up. The engine team in Japan and Europe will have done everything possible to give us more power and total reliability so we will be coming to Macau with the best possible car to get results. I am sure that if we have no more problems I will be fit and competitive as always, trying to get points for the championship and for sure I will be trying. I have never had a win in Macau so it is my dream to win there. I am looking forward to Macau very much.”

Gabriele Tarquini was talking to Jeff Heselwood


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