Gabriele Tarquini believes that claiming the inaugural FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) title was harder than his WTCC crown in 2009, due to the competition in WTCR being ‘higher’ than it was almost a decade ago.
Tarquini, 56, broke his own record for being the oldest FIA world Champion on Sunday in Macau, beating long-time rival Yvan Muller to the WTCR drivers’ championship.
The Italian thanked his supporters for helping him to the title, including Hyundai Motorsport, who signed him early on in the project to develop the i30 N TCR.
“I wanted to win because it was a long season, a tough season, the first season of WTCR,” said Tarquini. “And I was leading for 90 per cent of the time.
“It’s great and WTCR has been great. I must also thank Hyundai for choosing me in the beginning, all the BRC Racing Team, the mechanics and my team-mate [Norbert Michelisz].
“And I also want to congratulate Yvan, who made a great job through the season. He was my toughest opponent. And I forgot to thank my family – my wife, my daughter and son!”
Tarquini admitted that, after winning on the début of the Hyundai i30 N TCR on its first competitive appearance in the TCR International Series in 2017, he expected to be in the mix for overall glory in 2018.
“To be honest I expected to be fighting for the title. I already knew the car was very good but there are four Hyundais and the level of the others are very high; Norbi, Yvan and Thed [Björk] are very good.
“As I said at the beginning of the year it will probably not be the fastest guy who wins the title but probably the luckiest guy or the cleverest guy because it’s a long season with 30 races.”
Tarquini was almost denied the title by Muller though, as the Italian had to score points from 14th on the grid in both of Sunday’s races, whilst Muller fought for podiums ahead. In the end the title was won by just three points, with the gap having been at 39 heading into the final weekend.
“I won the title in the hardest way, by my mistake,” explained Tarquini. “I cannot blame anybody else, it was my mistake in qualifying.
“Without this it would probably have been easier, but with this mistake starting P14 in the second and third race I knew something could happen during the start.
“In the second race something happened because I was in a very good position, I overtook two or three cars. Somebody crashed in front of me, but we were stopping in the middle of Lisboa and they destroyed the back of my car.
“The third race, probably the worst start of my weekend, but I had a little bit more chance to survive in this corner. After the first lap 50 per cent of the job was done.
“It was quite tough because I had Thed behind me, it was quite hard, but the car was much faster than yesterday because yesterday I had some trouble with the performance of my car. It was tough, but it’s even better than if it was easier.”
Comparing his success to winning the WTCC with SEAT in 2009, Tarquini believes that due to the competition in WTCR, combined with the Balance of Performance [BoP] measures, winning in 2018 was even harder.
“It’s on the top because the level of competition is probably higher than 2009 when it was more or less the SEAT drivers in contention.
“This is not like 2009 because it was a lot of fight with a lot of drivers. And with the Balance of Performance sometimes you are top, sometimes you are down and for everybody it’s very tough to score points.”
Looking ahead to 2019, Tarquini hopes to continue in WTCR if Hyundai wish to retain him as one of their drivers.
“To be honest, I don’t know yet [about coming back]. I want to cool down. I’m 56, I’m still quite fast, probably a little bit more clever than when I was younger.
“This is my third world title, because I won one in karting. I don’t think that I want to stop, so if Hyundai would be pleased to let me continue, I will continue.”