Touring car legend, Gabriele Tarquini, has announced his retirement from racing at the age of 59. The double World Champion first raced in a touring car in 1987, driving for Alfa Romeo in the WTCC. The same year, he made his Formula 1 debut and was a regular name in F1 until 1992. He returned to Alfa Romeo in 1993, racing in the Italian Supertourismo, before both moved to the BTCC in 1994 – marking their debut in the series.
Today, we look back at Gabriele’s finest BTCC moments.
TARQUINI WINS ON DEBUT
Gabriele Tarquini made his BTCC debut at Thruxton in 1994, racing for Alfa Romeo, who were also making their debut in the championship. Thanks to the controversial front and rear aerodynamics & the new differential design, the Alfa Romeo 155 was the class of the field & Tarquini dominated the meeting. He took pole position & cruised to the race victory, leaving his rivals questioning the legality of the Alfa Romeo. John Cleland kept the Italian on his toes, finishing in 2nd place, but the truth was that Gabriele had plenty of performance in hand.
The controversy started when Alfa Romeo suddenly added extended front and rear wings for qualifying, shocking the whole pit lane. The squad had kept their secret aerodynamics in reserve, having tested with a standard front and rear spoiler throughout pre-season.
Gabriele went on to win the first five races of the season & by that point, the paddock was becoming a very acrimonious place. Ford and Vauxhall were leading the protests against the Alfa Romeo’s aerodynamics, but Gabriele revealed it was the differential that was giving the most performance to the Alfa in an interview with 1990sBTCC.com recently.
“Everybody was very surprised about our performance at the beginning of the 1994 season and they tried to slow down the speed of the Alfa 155 Silverstone. However, the aerodynamic additions on the car were only a small part of the good performances, but they were the most visible ones. The rear wing made no difference, we raced and won without the rear wing extended in many races. The Front wing made a medium amount of difference, but the secret of this car was the front differential. We introduced this differential, which was a mix of hydraulic and mechanical, which gave us a big performance boost.”
TARQUINI TAKES DEBUT TITLE
After Gabriele’s early season form, it was no surprise to see him take the title by the season’s end. The arguing had stopped & Alfa Romeo and Gabriele took a clean sweep of titles in an impressive first season. Even more impressive, was that Gabriele finished on the podium in every race he finished, until the season finale, in which he was 4th after starting from the back of the grid and being given a penalty. His fight through the field was incredible, passing car after car going into the chicane onto the Melbourne loop. Team mate Giampiero Simoni won that final race, with he and Tarquini leading Alfa Romeo to the manufacturer’s title at the first time of asking.
TARQUINI RETURNS TO RESCUE ALFA ROMEO
Tarquini left the BTCC at the end of 1994, instead moving to the ITC. It was his decision to leave, telling us, “After winning the BTCC, my decision was to stay with Alfa Romeo and to follow Giorgio Pianta to ITC.“ Alfa Corse also left the running of the BTCC Alfa Romeos to Prodrive. Derek Warwick was signed to replace Tarquini, with the Englishman lining up alongside Giampiero Simoni. The car suffered from a lack of development & the rest of the field had caught up. Warwick struggled to score, whilst Simoni was taking the car to places it probably didn’t deserve to be.
After the British GP round, Alfa Romeo decided to re-organise their programme, moving Simoni to the DTM championship, with Gabriele taking his seat in the BTCC. At the time, Nini Russo said, “The move isn’t to do with results, but because we are re-organising our programme. We believe that Gabriele is the father of our racing 155 and that he should continue the development work with David Richards and his Prodrive team.”
The move ultimately paid off, with Gabriele handing the team three 4th places towards the season’s end. Their best result prior to this was a solitary 5th place for Simoni. Warwick’s performances improved too, with him scoring far more regularly than he did before.
“I think the biggest difference for 1995 was that all the other cars in BTCC now used the same differential we introduced in 1994 and they increased the performance because of it. Alfa thought that we could continue winning with the 1994 spec car. Alfa Romeo was very involved in the DTM series and 90% of the money was dedicated to the German series that cost 10 times more than the Class 2 BTCC cars. They decided to stop developing the 155 Silverstone because again, they were thinking that we can continue winning with the 1994 car spec.”
TARQUINI TAKES FIRST PRODRIVE HONDA WIN
Gabriele returned to the BTCC in 1997, this time with Honda, who had teamed up with Prodrive for the first time. The relationship quickly paid off, as Gabriele raced to victory in a rain affected meeting at Thruxton in Round 3, taking the first win of the partnership. Despite having a car that was quick at times, there was nothing Tarquini or anyone else could do to stop the Renault Laguna domination that season.
After a season showing glimpses of real speed and promise, a lot of retirements and a few collisions left Gabriele 6th in the standings at the end of the season. He left the series at the end of 1997, joining the Super Tourenwagen cup with Honda for 1998 & was replaced by Peter Kox.
TARQUINI’S SUCCESSFUL RETURN IN 1999
After a year away in the Super Tourenwagen Cup with Honda, Gabriele returned for what was originally a one-off meeting at Knockhill for Honda in 1999. The idea behind it was to help bolster support for Honda’s lead driver, James Thompson, who still had an outside shot at the 1999 BTCC title. The car would be run by his JAS mechanics from Germany, working alongside WSR, who ran the Honda program in the BTCC. The Italian out-qualified and out-raced both his team mates, finishing on 2nd to Laurent Aiello in race one & 6th in race 2. He scored Honda’s only podium of the meeting – in the same race that regular Honda boys, Thompson and Kox, colidied! “I love the BTCC – I feel at home here and I am glad to be back!” Gabriele said after the meeting. He also won praise from BTCC boss Alan Gow, who said he was really keen to get the Italian back into the series on a full time basis. I suspsect Gabriele’s big smile was the only smile in the Honda camp by the end of the day!
After the success of the Knockhill meeting, Gabriele returned again for the next meeting at Brands Hatch. The meeting was not as successful, however, as Tarquini retired from both meetings & struggled throughout, with paddock rumours suggesting that the WSR/JAS alliance was not a happy pairing at the Kent circuit, with the Italian outfit allegedly not working as closely with West Surrey Racing as they did at Knockhill.
A WINNING RETURN IN 2000
After his 1999 cameos, Tarquini returned to the BTCC full time for the 2000 season, lining up alongside James Thompson and Tom Kristensen. As has become customary during his Honda days, he took the manufacturer’s first win of the season at Knockhill. However, the Honda drivers suffered with having what was generally the 3rd best car in the field during the season. With only 3 manufacturer outfits & Ford being totally dominant, it meant wins were quite hard to come by for Honda that season.
Gabriele took three wins at Knockhill, Donington & Oulton Park, with another three podium finishes in 2000, finishing 6th in the Championship, crucially as top Honda driver. An impressive feat, as his two team mates for the season were James Thompson and Tom Kristensen, With Class 2 Super Touring regulations coming to an end and Honda withdrawing from the series at the end of the season, Gabriele moved to the European Touring Car series with Honda and was never seen in the BTCC again.
Honda and Gabriele were always sporadically fast during their time in the BTCC together, but could never put up a consistent title challenge.
“Honda and the Accord was a very good car in those years, but Honda’s BTCC strategy was not very good. They changed preparation teams and key personnel a lot and for me, this was the biggest problem that cost us a title fight in the late 90s.”