Gabriele Tarquini was crowed 2009 FIA World Touring Car Champion at the final round of the season, Macau, and his SEAT Sport team sneaked the Manufacturer’s crown by 3 points over BMW.
But it was far from plain sailing for the Italian, suffering a number of mishaps before the decisive races had even begun.
Before the event, he said, “A catastrophe could happen, you never know. So this year I have to be very focused and avoid any possible calamities.”
Oh, the irony!
In second Free Practise, Tarquini made a small mistake with big consequences. He slid into the barriers, badly damaging the front right corner of his SEAT Leon. The mechanics did however manage to fix his car in time for qualifying.
Unfortunately for him though, his day went from bad to worse, as carnage ensued during qualifying.
It started off in Q1, when James Thompson smashed into the parked BMW of Stefano D’Aste at high speed. This left Thommo’s Lada completely wreck and unfixable for Sunday’s races. Not that it mattered, as unfortunately he had to leave hospital on crutches after suffering damage to his feet.
This had left an oil slick on the track, so cement dust was placed on the track for Q2. But it made no difference, as two of the title contenders were about to find out.
Yvan Muller slid on the cement dust and binned his SEAT into the wall. The dust reduced visibility to almost nothing as Tarquini came along at just under 100mph, slamming into his team-mate and sending them both to hospital for checks. Alain Menu swiped both of them and was able to limp back to the pits, albeit to retirement from the session.
This plus technical gremlins for Rickard Rydell meant there were only 6 cars going for pole. Robert Huff made up for Menu’s disappointment taking pole position for Chevrolet. Alongside him on the front row was Andy Priaulx, after turning around his “dog of a car” from free practise.
Huff went on to win Race 1 without problems out front, but there was some midfield argy-bargy going on behind.
Priaulx made a bad start and was pushed into the outside wall of Turn 1 by Jordi Gene, causing heavy damage to his right front corner and limped back to the pits with a wheel hanging off his car.
The pushing and shoving match between Gene and Priaulx promoted Tiago Monteiro up to second, but it wouldn’t last after having to submit to all but one of his team-mates during the race.
Tarquini had made up for his qualifying woes by moving up to 3rd by the exit of Lisboa and he was duly waved past by Monteiro late in the race. Gene also went past, plus Menu and the BMW pair of Jorg Muller and Augusto Farfus.
On the final lap he pulled up for Yvan Muller after Jorg Muller and Farfus slowed to secure the front row for Race 2. However this meant the end of Farfus’ title hopes, with Yvan Muller the only one with a mathematical chance, 6 points down on Tarquini.
Pole (Position) Dancing Routines with SEAT and BMW
Race 2 was similarly dominated out front, by Farfus and Jorg Muller. In the early stages Muller had to put up with the SEATs of Monteiro and Yvan Muller, until a crash by Tom Boardman after contact with team-mate Tom Coronel meant the Safety Car was dispatched onto the track after 3 laps.
By now Tarquini was up to 5th and had Gene for backup against the chasing Chevys of Huff and Nicola Larini, in his final WTCC race before retirement.
However the race was cut short with two laps remaining, after a monster shunt involving Felix Porteiro, Franz Engstler and local driver Andre Couto.
Porteiro slid wide at the final corner into the wall and bounced back into the middle of the track, stranded at the mercy of oncoming traffic. Engstler couldn’t avoid the Spaniard despite swerving away and slammed into him. Nobuteru Taniguchi and Takayuki Aoki just managed to pick their way past the crash scene, with the latter almost getting pinned against the barrier by Porteiro’s crawling car. However by the time Couto arrived on the scene the yellow flags had been waving for several seconds, so ramming into the driver’s door of Engstler’s BMW at almost full speed was rather reckless of him.
Unfortunately for Engstler, he sustained a broken collarbone because of the impact from Couto’s SEAT, but has already left hospital and has now returned back to Europe. Neither Porteiro or Couto suffered and major injury in the pile-up.
This meant Tarquini was crowned champion, the oldest World FIA series champion ever, and was over the moon to have followed up his European Touring Car crown from 2003.
“It is fantastic,” said Tarquini. “I had some crashes in practice and qualifying, which isn’t the best way to approach the weekend in Macau, but the team did a fantastic job to rebuild the car.”
“My target and my goal was to win the world title, because maybe it was my last chance as I am not very young anymore. For the future I don’t know. I just want to have a holiday now, 20 or 30 days to think about my future, and I am sure it is the best way to have this rest with the title in my hands.”
Only hours after taking 2nd place in the Driver’s championship, Yvan Muller announced he would be switching to Chevrolet for next year. It would lead many to assume SEAT was giving Tarquini most of its support rather than Muller.
Farfus was reflective on races past, in a case of ‘what could have been’ for the Brazilian.
“We had a tough start to the season with the first three events being disappointing which could have made the difference,” he said. “We pushed hard to the end but unfortunately it didn't work and hopefully we can look to a better season in 2010.”
Meanwhile Tom Coronel had already wrapped up the Independents crown, despite Porteiro winning the last race by default despite triggering the race-ending incident.
“This season has been a hard fight and Porteiro was a challenge for me,” said Coronel. “We have finished all the races a got some good results along the way. The championship is about collecting points throughout the year and this is why I am champion!”