The grand finale of the first season of the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) takes place on the streets of Macau this weekend, with Gabriele Tarquini bidding to secure his second FIA title and the oldest FIA champion.
Of course, if Tarquini was to succeed then holding the title would ne nothing new for the Italian – after he claimed his World Touring Car Championship with SEAT in 2009 he took the honour of being the oldest FIA World Champion at the age of 47.
Now Tarquini could rewrite history again with a title at the age of 56 years – nine years after his first FIA title.
Tarquini was instrumental in the development of the Hyundai i30 N TCR, signing for Hyundai shortly after the withdrawal of LADA from the WTCC at the end of the 2016 season.
Whilst that meant that there were limited race outings in 2017, when Tarquini did hit the circuit he immediately proved he had lost none of his skill, memorably carving through the field to win on the i30’s début at the Zhejiang International Circuit in China last year.
That led to a drive with the BRC Racing team in this year’s WTCR, and Tarquini has proven to be one of the most consistent racers in an unpredictable season. With five wins to his name so far, Tarquini has more wins than any other driver, and he heads to Macau with a strong 39-point lead at the head of the standings.
There have been blots to his copybook in the process, though. Having won three times early in the season, at the Nürburgring, Tarquini failed to pick up a single point after crashing out of race one, before being knocked out of race two which prevented him from starting race three.
The struggles of the Hyundai drivers at the next event at Zandvoort were well documented, and by the time that the weekend in The Netherlands had ended, Tarquini found himself 28 points adrift of the series lead, having held a 41-point lead before the Nürburgring event.
Two more wins came in Slovakia and most recently in Japan, giving Tarquini a 39-point advantage before the final three races in Macau. In total 87 points are up for grabs, with seven drivers theoretically still in title contention.
Realistically it is only Yvan Muller or Thed Björk who can stop Tarquini taking the title. Muller and Tarquini have, of course, been here before. Experienced touring car fans will recall the 2008 and 2009 finales – although Tarquini stood little chance in ’08, he memorably edged out Muller in ’09 to claim his one and only WTCC title.
Muller himself would need a change in fortunes to topple Tarquini, though. The Frenchman has won three times this year, but has focused on running his YMR team and seemed to be prioritising Björk’s campaign, until the point when Björk’s challenge seemed to falter in Wuhan and Suzuka, leaving the Swede 53 points adrift.
Elsewhere, Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Rob Huff will be gunning for a record tenth win on the Circuito da Guia, having previously won in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 (twice), 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.
The compensation weight system will see the Audi RS3 LMS as the heaviest car in Macau, being the only car with 60 kg of additional weight. The Honda Civic will carry 50 kg, whilst the Hyundai i30 N has 40 kg on board. The two Volkswagen Golf GTis will have 30 kg, followed by the resurgent Alfa Romeo Giulietta on 20kg. Both the CUPRA and Peugeot have 10 kg of compensation weight.
Free practice gets underway at 09:05 local time on Thursday 15 November (01:05 GMT) followed by second practice at 13:30 local time (05:30 GMT).