Tiago Monteiro is already looking ahead to the 2019 season, after the Honda driver made a return to racing in the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) in Japan after more than a year away due to injury.
Monteiro lined up on the grid in the Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda which he had been planning to return in for the first time at Suzuka, with the Portuguese star having sufficiently recovered from the testing shunt which ended his season early in 2017.
Ahead of that first start, though, the rest of the WTCR drivers and teams formed a ‘guard of honour’ in the pitlane on Friday as Monteiro headed out to the circuit.
With limited seat time in the car this year, Monteiro put in a respectable début showing in the Civic TCR, qualifying in 20th for race one before improving to 16th in the qualifying session for races two and three.
Although the 42-year-old missed out on the points in the three races, Monteiro improved throughout the weekend, ending just outside the points in 11th in race three.
“It was very important, obviously, this return and the way everything went down,” said Monteiro.
“It’s 468 days since I did my last race in the WTCC in Argentina last year, but when I was on the warm-up lap heating my tyres, I swear it felt like only two weeks ago. It was the same when the race started.”
As he improved with the car, Monteiro wishes that the weekend format had been slightly different, with both qualifying sessions taking place on Friday instead of the usual format of qualifying for races two and three after race one.
“I would have loved to do another qualifying [on Sunday] morning; my weekend was just starting and was gaining some confidence with the car really.
“It was a big, big relief that it felt good. I felt natural – I felt as if I hadn’t stopped. Of course, I need some more rhythm, I need to understand this whole thing a bit better, but I had so much fun.
“Everything just felt extremely normal and natural, and on reflection, that’s a very strong feeling.”
Monteiro is already looking forward to the 2019 season, as he will not take part in the Macau WTCR finale as had already been announced.
“It was, as we said before, a very emotional weekend, so much great support from these guys, the whole family and this is what pushed me and gave me the strength to come back here. I will never thank them enough and without this motivation I probably would have stopped.
“It’s felt amazing to be back all weekend and I’m very pleased with how everything’s gone. It’s a great starting point for 2019. I’m back and already looking at winter testing and next year.”