The CAR Inquisition: Gabriele Tarquini
Touring car legend Gabriele Tarquini has won more international races than most of us have had hot dinners, and he’s still winning in his 50s. What’s the secret?
GABRIELE TARQUINI had his first crash at the age of seven. ‘I jumped in my parents’ car and tried to start the engine, not realising it was in gear. So I started by crashing, and I’ve continued ever since!’ It’s a typically self-deprecating remark from a racing driver with a career so stellar he has nothing to prove.
After countless race wins over decades in the white-hot crucible of international touring car racing, he’s still in the thick of it as Hyundai’s lead driver in the World Touring Car Cup. And, at the age of 56, still winning. When we meet him at his BRC Racing team’s headquarters, he spends hours tirelessly chauffeuring guests, fielding questions and even tutoring CAR in the finer points of driving his racecar with limitless patience.
Tarquini is the epitome of a pro.
Like many pro drivers, he started in karting young, at five years old. ‘My father ran a karting track. I was a baby. I started jumping on the karts and I became crazy about this sport. For me, karting was enough. I started for fun; I never wanted to be an F1 driver.’
But with multiple karting titles to his credit in 1984, a pathway opened to the sport’s peak – three years later Tarquini was sitting in a Grand Prix car.
‘I started in the wild turbo era of F1, zero electronics, no anti-lag, traction control. Very fun cars to drive.
It was impossible to be fast without experience – no simulators, no data.
New drivers’ average age was mid-30s, not 18, 19. My era was Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet – big names, big talents.’
It was also the era of pre-qualifying where minnow squads like those Tarquini raced for had to battle to reach the grid, while more established (and often slower) teams were guaran- teed a spot. He holds the undesired record for the most DNQs (Did Not Qualify) of any F1 driver – which says more about the quality of the cars he raced (and the longevity of his time in F1) than it does about his talent.
Tarquini had already been combining F1 with touring cars; now his career turned fully tin-topped. Alfa Romeo recruited Tarquini for the high-tech ITC and DTM champi- onships, then turned its attention to the British Touring Car Champion- ship – then experiencing its stellar mid-’90s boom.
Tarquini won the BTCC at his first attempt and is still a household name among British fans for that 1994 season’s two-wheeled (and occasion- ally upside down) escapades.
‘I was an Italian driver in an Italian team; it was very special,’ he says. So much so he now owns the car, his BTCC-winning 155 at home in his garage. On the road, however, he drives a Hyundai Santa Fe.
‘I don’t drive fast on the road. I’ve never had a big accident in a road car. I use all my speed on the track. To me, even a basic racing car is more exciting than a supercar.’ What would he be doing if he wasn’t a racing driver? ‘I was training to be a lawyer, and close to finishing university when I started racing full-time. I don’t regret stopping because I have had a great career since. If I was not racing, I imagine I would be in my law studio, preparing to fight with someone! A different kind of fight from racing, but still a fight.’
Maybe fighting spirit is the key to his enduring speed. Is there a secret to his longevity? His answer is typically modest: ‘There is no secret – I think I am very lucky because I don’t feel I am any slower. I think I must have lost a little bit of speed, but I know more than the young drivers about how to set the car up. I always learn year by year; I never think I have reached the top and I have nothing left to learn.
‘I never think that I’ve finished learning to drive the car.’ Maybe there’s a lesson for us all there.