This weekend was always going to be an emotional one for Gabriele Tarquini. The Italian veteran, a legend of the sport, announced on Friday that this would be his final season in the FIA World Touring Car Cup. And as a result, this was to be his last home race.
Qualifying on Saturday left him heartbroken however, as a driver error which saw his Hyundai get marooned in the gravel trap meant that he would start both races from the lowly position of twelfth.
Happily though, a bruising race one was followed up with a successful performance in the main race, which involved Tarquini climbing all the way up the order to finish fifth by the time the chequered flag was waved. The 59 year-old will have been relieved to end on a high, though it is evident he feels that the weekend could have offered so much more.
“It was a good race,” he said. “To be honest I had a very good car. I must blame myself for qualifying yesterday, because I could have achieved a better result [than fifth in race two].
“I tried to do my best, I was quite lucky at the start of the second race to avoid some accidents, but in the second part of the race I had very good pace. I did a good move, good overtaking – it’s the minimum I could do for the crowd I had around me, because people have joined me this weekend from all over Italy just to see my last home race.
“I’m very proud of these people coming. Some are friends that come every single year to every single race, but 99% just came to say goodbye to me, and that’s something that I will remember forever.”
Tarquini has clearly been touched by the outpouring of support since the announcement of his retirement was made, but in a sense, that appeared to pile on the pressure somewhat. Upon reflection, the Italian admits that perhaps he let the sense of occasion weigh too heavy on his shoulders.
“In qualifying for some reason we were struggling a lot and the car was not easy to drive,” he said. “I made mistakes and probably the pressure was the problem.
“But today I had nothing to risk so I was on full attack. The first race was not easy because of an incident at the start, and when you are in the middle of the grid you usually have a problem in the first few laps, that’s normal.
“But in the second race I could show the pace, so I’m very happy. I enjoyed it very much and seeing all the people around made me very happy.”
There are just two more races left of Tarquini’s multi-decade touring car career, so the driver and his fans alike will undoubtedly be hoping that he gets to step on the podium one last time at Sochi.