Photo: WTCR Media

Gabriele Tarquini leads list of seven potential champions heading to Macau

Gabriele Tarquini, 56 years old, heads to Macau with a 39-point gap over chief rival Yvan Muller to the World Touring Car Cup season finale at Macau next month, with the Hyundai driver one of seven drivers who could theoretically win the inaugural title.

Tarquini’s last championship success came in 2009, when he also defeated Yvan Muller, then his team-mate at SEAT Sport, in a tense season finale at the iconic Guia Race of Macau.

Tarquini’s fifth-place finish in Race 2 today at Suzuka set the scene for Race 3, where he’d go on to win, allowing the Alfa Romeo of Kevin Ceccon by knowing his rival had a five-second penalty for a false start, and so took the win by default and the 30 points that go with it, while Yvan Muller endured a nightmare of a race and failed to finish, caught up in incidents as he battled in the lower half of the top ten.

Tarquini was tied with Muller after Saturday’s race, when he along with his BRC Racing team-mate Norbert Michelisz and the three Münnich Hondas had been given a three-place grid drop for driving slowly and backing up the pack in qualifying.

“The gap is bigger than I expected because after the grid position penalty yesterday it was not easy,” said Tarquini.

“Yvan recovered ten points on me, but today was a different day. I got the chance to score some points, made a fantastic start in Race 2 and even better in Race 3, and this was the key to my success.

“I am very disappointed for Kevin because he was the fastest guy here, uncatchable for everybody. But unfortunately he got his five-second penalty and to be honest when they informed me I let him past. I did not have to challenge for the race; I was thinking about the points for my fight for the championship, but after that I tried to be as close as possible, but he was very, very fast. But even with this fast car he was not able to gain five seconds. For me it was a good chance to score this victory.”

Tarquini now heads to Macau, where he’s not raced since 2014 when the event stopped being a round of the World Touring Car Championship, and was driving in the TCR International Series last year when it made its return.

“I have not raced there for three or four years, but I remember well the corners and the hospital!,” he joked, reflecting on the famous crash in 2009 where both he and Muller were hospitalised after a crash in qualifying.

“It’s the best position to approach the final race for me and I will be concentrating on the title, but it’s a lottery and everything can happen in Macau. You can have trouble, an accident, you must survive the start, especially the first corner. It’s probably not the best place for me when you have an advantage, probably it’s the best race for Yvan when he must recover.”

With 87 points remaining, the title can be theoretically won by anyone from Yvan Muller, Thed Bjork, Pepe Oriola, Jean-Karl Vernay, Esteban Guerrieri and Norbert Michelisz.