BTCC Greats - Gabriele Tarquini
This week’s BTCC Great is one of the world’s most well-renowned drivers and one that has been loved in the series since he made his debut: the flamboyant Italian Gabriele Tarquini.
Tarquini had spent much of his early years in karting and in lower formulas until 1988 when he received the opportunity to race in Formula 1 with Coloni’s Grand Prix team. In that particular era, the series saw a prequalifying system put in place due to there being 31 competitors but only 30 spots.
Out of a total 40 attempts, Tarquini failed to qualify on 25 occasions which was noted a s a record. He was widely considered in the F1 paddock though for being a fast driver and he would drive for FIRST Racing, Automobiles Gonfaronnaises Sportives and Fondemetal F1 Spa. Overall the Italian could only muster a best race finish of eighth in his career within the championship.
The Italian turned his head to tin top racing and in particular touring cars with the 1994 BTCC season being where Tarquini arrived. It was at the time when the series was arguably at its best in terms of manufacturers and drivers competing. Not only was it Tarquini’s first year in the championship but it was also Alfa Romeo’s full debut, and they provided a pair of 155’s for Tarquini and his team mate Giampiero Simoni.
The 155 had been produced by Alfa with many specific components including wings and spoilers which significantly improved the aerodynamics of the cars. Amidst the controversy surrounding the Alfa Romeo, it appeared that the 155 was the car to revolutionize the series in terms of aero packages for the future.
Tarquini the first five races of the season and firmly asserted himself at the top of the standings as a serial title contender. It was at Oulton Park however that protests were lodged against the Alfa Romeos and the elected to leave the circuit thus not racing. As the season progressed teams were beginning to join Alfa on par of performance and the spoils of victory were a lot tighter however at the end of the year it was Tarquini who took his maiden title in his first season on British soil. Seven victories also fell the way of the loveable Italian and apart from his DNF’s and DNS, Tarquini didn’t finish a race lower than fourth which is hugely impressive.
His second season in the series didn’t go the way Tarquini had hoped as he looked to be the first back to back champion in the Super Touring era. Round nine and ten at Oulton Park again was where the defending champion made his 95′ bow having driven within F1 for most of the year as he returned for one last swansong. The second race of that weekend saw Tarquini however suffer a major crash as his Alfa Romeo rolled over leaving masses amount of damage. He wouldn’t return till the end of the season, driving selective rounds and leaving him in 16th place in the overall championship.
With a year away from the BTCC in 1996, Tarquini was brought in to join James Thompson in the Honda Accord ran by Team Honda Sport for 1997. It was the season that proved to be dominated by Alain Menu however the 1994 champion showed great race craft throughout his campaign, especially at a wet Thruxton. The Italian dominated the second race at Thruxton from the battling field and he was untouchable round the Hampshire airfield.
That proved to be his only victory of the season as Menu romped to continuous wins however Tarquini was in and amongst the action taking many podium positions. He again though was also caught up in a big crash, this time at Croft. He clipped the tyres out of the quick chicane and smashed into the wall bringing out a red flag as well as medical attention In the end though he could manage a best finish of sixth overall but had performed valiantly.
Peter Kox replaced Tarquini for the 1998 season and the Dutchmen was also retained for 1999. Tarquini did return with Honda however for four races to try and help Thompson win the title however he would prove to be unsuccessful by retiring in three races. The turn of the millennium in the year 2000 proved to be Tarquini’s final season within the BTCC as he joined Thompson and Tom Kristensen at the wheel of the Hondas once again.
This season saw the main title battle focus mostly around the inter-team fight within Ford. However Tarquini prominently showed he was a front runner and failed to finish a mere four times. The Italian took three wins in his final season and although he was a consistent top ten finisher, it would only be good enough for another sixth place championship finish, proving that it was extremely competitive on track.
Overall in his BTCC career, Tarquini took part in 82 races and won 12 of them. He also achieved 27 podiums, 7 pole positions and 14 fastest laps which all sat alongside the one drivers title that he clinched in 1994.
Since his departure from the BTCC Tarquini has set the world of touring cars alight in the WTCC. He had been at the wheel of the ever faithful SEAT Leon since 2006 and claimed the 2009 drivers title with a mere three victories, his consistency being the underlining factor as to why he clinched the crown.
This 2013 season see’s him as the lead driver in Honda’s fully funded works effort alongside Tiago Monteiro as they take the battle to the independent Chevrolet teams. Tarquini sits currently second in the championship with a solitary victory to his name.
In our next edition of BTCC Greats we take a trip down to memory lane and in particular to 1958, where we assess the career of the legendary Tommy Sopwith.
Article originally written on Thursday, 6 June 2013. Read more articles from the BTCC Crazy Archive.