Gabriele Tarquini will continue to pilot a SEAT Leon in the World Touring Car Championship in 2012, together with the Russian oil firm Lukoil.
The Italian veteran, together with newcomer Alexey Dudukalo, raced a Leon for the Spanish Sunred Engineering outfit last year, under the banner Lukoil-SUNRED. The team began the year with a normally-aspirated 2.0 litre engine, with which Tarquini managed a win at Zolder.
They later switched to their own 1.6 litre turbocharged unit, but it was fraught with reliability issues and was also not as competitive as rivals Chevrolet or BMW. Tarquini ended the year fifth overall in the standings.
The 49-year-old had been linked to Aon Ford's WTCC project for this season, but he will instead remain with Lukoil, who will now enter their own team under the Lukoil Racing Team banner. The Leons will be powered by a new 1.6 litre turbocharged engine being commissioned by SEAT Sport. He will again be partnered by 35-year-old Dudukalo, who scored two top ten finishes in 2011.
Tarquini thinks the new engine will help him take the fight to Chevrolet.
“I am very glad that Lukoil confirmed me as one of their drivers, this was not guaranteed,” he said. “Also, I am very proud to be selected to train the next generation of Russian drivers. Now I'm eager to start the next season.
“Of course, we will use the same SEAT Leon cars, but I expect much from the new engine. In general, I think that we will be stronger than the year before, and be in the position to compete with Chevrolet.”
Lukoil Racing Team boss Evgeniy Malinovskiy added: “I am glad to present our program for World Championship 2012. Lukoil Racing Team will participate with the SEAT Leon of current generation but with better technical support.
“We have also prolonged contracts with drivers who represented us last season. First of all, I am glad that the world champion Gabriele Tarquini remains in our team. He is a most professional and victory-focused driver, whose experience will help us become stronger.
“This year in WTCC will be very important for Alexey Dudukalo. Alexey won Russian championships for many times, but it's still difficult for him to compete in European races. Last season he lacked experience in competition and knowledge for a championship of such a high level, but this season we are expecting more stable results. As Alexey receives the necessary experience and good cars, his driving brings better results.
“WTCC is one of the most effective marketing and sport tools for Lukoil. They have excellent infrastructure to create guest programs for partners of the company. Last year we held several promotional and image-building events during competitions, and we are satisfied with their results.”
Dudukalo commented: “We will open the new season on better cars. I would like this to give us more chances to rise higher than last year. Then the main problem for us was the engine that had less power and reliability than those of our competitors. This time we will not have this problem, plus we can rely on better experience and technical support. Evgeny Malinovskiy has done good work between the seasons, and now everything depends on us.”