Although many will be focusing on the FIA World Touring Car Cup title fight, there is of course another significant story that has dominated the paddock and the headlines since Friday. That, understandably, is the retirement of touring car legend Gabriele Tarquini.
A true veteran of the sport, Tarquini would have been hoping for a successful final home race in Italy, but sadly things haven’t quite gone to plan so far.
Despite showing reasonable pace in practice, none of the Hyundai contingent could really match Audi and Lynk & Co for raw speed in qualifying. And as a result, Tarquini ended up pushing his Elantra too hard into turn one towards the end of the first knock-out round, promptly getting himself stuck in the gravel trap.
So, although he had clocked a lap time good enough to get him into phase two, the Italian’s stricken car would take no further part.
That means he’ll be starting both of Sunday’s races from twelfth on the grid, and though it may put the top positions out of reach, his home fans should at least be treated to an entertaining display of overtaking.
That said, it won’t be easy for Tarquini to make his way up the order. The quality of the WTCR field is incredibly high, and in fact, that is one of the reasons why Tarquini himself has loved being a part of it for the last two decades.
“It was a privilege to stay for so many years around the WTCC and WTCR, and to fight with the young drivers,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for every driver here, because the level is very, very high.
“So to compete with them, it was a great honour. I feel very lucky just to have this privilege to fight with them at the top level touring car championship.”
The fight isn’t over yet though. There are still four races of Tarquini’s world touring car career to go, and the 59 year-old certainly has his work cut out for him ahead of the first two.
“It was not my best day unfortunately,” Tarquini sighed. “I hoped to stay in the top ten. This was my target because the pace of our car wasn’t really fast. Congrats to them [Lynk & Co and Audi] because they were faster than us, and it was quite hard.
[In the end though] it was my mistake, I went too fast on the first corner and unfortunately I went through the gravel trap and there was no chance to get back on the track. So I was stuck on the gravel, and it’s very deep! You cannot exit from the gravel trap, it’s impossible.
“I tried to do my best and tomorrow it will be tough, because starting twelfth in the middle of the pack, this track is quite narrow and twisty. But I have nothing to lose. I will be in full attack mode and we will see what happens.”
It’s clear that – especially after qualifying – Tarquini feels a sense of duty to put on a show for his home supporters one last time. Although there will undoubtedly be sadness that he couldn’t qualify further up the grid, the Italian evidently doesn’t plan on hanging around in the midfield for long tomorrow.
“I want to score some good positions because a lot of people have come from my home town to visit me,” he said. “Tomorrow it will not be my best race, so I will try to do my best and score some good points and good positions [for them].”
The first race of the day will begin at 10:00 local time (09:00 GMT).