Race Track / 04 April 2013

A Chat with Gabriele between Monza & Marrakech : Forza Honda !

A Chat with Gabriele between Monza & Marrakech : Forza Honda !

After entering the final three races of the WTCC in 2012 – where Portuguese Tiago Monteiro delivered a fantastic 3rd place in the final round – the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team embarked on their first full season at the Circuit of Monza last month - and what a start.

Despite the grim weather, in the first race Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro drove their Civic WTCCs over the line in 4th and 5th place respectively. And in the second, Gabriele Tarquini went one better, grabbing a hard fought 3rd from a standing start. The “newly born” Civic WTCC has now collectively delivered two podium finishes in only four rounds! 

“I was impressed that the Civic handled so well on such a wet track, as we hadn’t tested the car in conditions like this.” said a satisfied Italian after this first difficult meeting. But anyone who has ever seen Tarquini race before knows that the Honda Civic WTCC was in safe hands.  “Of course my biggest advantage – when facing the youngster like my Honda buddy Tiago – is my experience. They keep putting this experience to the test too, so I drive a lot of kilometres, stay in the rhythm and complete fast rounds.” laughs Tarquini. “My experience was also useful when the rain fell in Monza. Visibility was practically non-existent, there was a lot of water on the track and catching up or moving past an opponent was very risky.”

This experience comes from twelve seasons of international touring car racing, including thirty-seven victories and one World title.  With such a résumé it’s easy to see what attracted the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team to the 50 year-old ex-world champion. But close ties to the Japanese-Italian squad of Alessandro Mariani and Maurizio Ambrogetti also played their part.

“I feel that I’m back home, home sweet home!” smiles Gabriele about his arrival behind the wheel of the Honda Civic WTCC “made by JAS”. “It’s been 12 years since I last had the pleasure of working with J.A.S., but I still know everybody; I know their way of working and I don’t need to ask myself who does what. We talk the same language and that’s important for a good working relationship and to achieve the goals we have set ourselves.”

For Tarquini, before touring cars there was Formula 1, indeed 38 starts in total. But before motorsport the Italian had his sights on a completely different career. 

“Believe it or not, before becoming a professional driver I was training to be a lawyer!” laughs Gabriele.  “But I realised my heart was with racing and stopped to concentrate on my motorsport career, first in F3000, then in Formula 1. But then began a long and fruitful relationship with J.A.S and Honda.

“Finding a job in touring cars after F1 and becoming a British champion as an Italian went in parallel. That’s how I drove for the first time for JAS in 1996 in the ITC, the more internationally coloured DTM. One year later, Honda offered me a seat in a Honda Accord in the BTCC and afterwards I competed in the German STW Cup.”

J.A.S’ relationship with Honda began in 1998, supporting the motor manufacturer in the German championship with none other than Gabriele Tarquini behind the wheel.  In 2001 Tarquini won nine races with the Honda Accord entered by J.A.S. in the FIA European Super Touring Cup - later the FIA ETCC, which would emerge in 2005 as the modern WTCC.

The eagle-eyed observer will also have spotted a very young Tarquini seated behind the wheel of an Alfa Corse in Monza way back in 1987 – the inaugural World Touring Car Championship. In the same year he also started in Formula 1 with the Italian team Osella, racing alongside legends such as Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna. Twenty-six years later he is one of the few drivers in the world who still competes in top flight motorsport. And in Monza he showed he is still at the top of his game...

“It’s all in the head, between the two ears,” chuckles Gabriele. “The only contrast between the Tarquini when I started out to the Tarquini now is that there’s no more pressure for me to win absolutely. I’m not saying that I don’t push to extremes, but a victory more or less won’t determine my career anymore.”

After the rain of Italy comes the sunshine of North Africa, as the FIA WTCC caravan moves to the street circuit of Marrakesh, Morocco for the 2nd round of the championship.

“It will be a warm weekend, both literally and figurative. The temperature can reach 26°, but with two long straights, fast and tricky chicanes, walls that encircle the racetrack and curbs, it will be also be a ‘hot’ competition. And the curbs in the streets of Marrakech cannot be compared with the curb stones that we know from traditional circuits either. It’s as if they are springboards that make the car jump for real.

“With only one week between Monza and Marrakech, there’s not a lot of time to improve the top speed of the Civic. But I’ve won in Marrakech before and know the track well. “Based on what we know now, our primary goal in round two is to score points, so we can stay in contention at the top of the championship.  In the background the team will be developing the Civic further and if we can make it work, then we’ll be playing for the title.”

Gabriele Tarquini, Tiago Monteiro and the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team will be in action on April 6 and 7 in the streets of Marrakech for the second round of the FIA WTCC. 

More: www.fiawtcc.com