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Friday favourite: How tin-top partners built an enduring relationship

Between 2007 and 2015, Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro raced together in every World Touring Car Championship season bar one, for two different manufacturers across three distinct periods. That consolidated a strong partnership that makes Monteiro the favourite team-mate of Tarquini’s lengthy career

Tiago Monteiro (POR) Honda Civic Super 2000 TC, Honda Racing Team Jas

In a professional racing career that spanned over 30 years before his retirement at the age of 59 in 2021, Gabriele Tarquini has worked with more team-mates than he would care to mention. “I drove with a lot of fantastic drivers, challenging and very strong opponents also in my team and it’s always very difficult to choose one,” he tells Autosport.

The great and good of touring car racing have driven with the Italian across stints with Alfa Romeo, Honda, SEAT and Hyundai. Among the stellar names are multiple champions in domestic, European and global competitions including James Thompson, Tom Kristensen, Fabrizio Giovanardi, Augusto Farfus, Yvan Muller, Rickard Rydell and Norbert Michelisz.

But having raced together as team-mates in all but one of nine consecutive World Touring Car Championship seasons between 2007 and 2015, Tarquini’s choice of Tiago Monteiro as his favourite should come as little surprise. Across stints at SEAT (both as a factory team and with privateers) and Honda, with Tarquini recommending Monteiro to the Japanese manufacturer for its 2012 entry to the WTCC, the two developed a strong bond as they spent plenty of time together.

“I enjoyed very much to stay on track and outside the track with him,” says Tarquini. “Also he had family with small children. We spent holidays together with the family, we spent a lot of time especially in between races to share the same hotel.”

The Portuguese arrived in Tarquini’s orbit fresh from two mixed seasons in Formula 1 at the Jordan/Midland team in 2007, in amongst a five-car SEAT superteam with Tarquini, Muller, Jordi Gene and Michel Jourdain Jr. Having dabbled in touring cars as early as 1987, Tarquini had made the same switch from F1 after his Fondmetal team collapsed in 1992 and so knew the difficulty Monteiro faced in adapting to front-wheel drive. Tarquini recalls that Monteiro made a strong first impression on a personal note even if, in the car, “especially the first season he was struggling a lot”.

Archive: Why Tarquini's passion for racing survived F1 "humiliation"

“Our relationship started very well because he introduced himself not like a Formula 1 star,” he remembers. “Especially because I was in F1 before jumping in touring cars as well, so we had more or less similar experience, I can understand the problem he had jumping in touring cars. But he was growing a lot after a few races and seasons and he became a very good touring car driver.”

Monteiro (second from left) had a tricky adaption to tin-tops in the all-star SEAT lineup in 2007, but had an ally in Tarquini (second from right)

Photo by: Sutton Images

Monteiro (second from left) had a tricky adaption to tin-tops in the all-star SEAT lineup in 2007, but had an ally in Tarquini (second from right)

Monteiro emerged as a race winner in 2008 and cracked the top 10 in points the following year as Tarquini won the world title. But for 2010 SEAT withdrew as a factory team and both drivers joined the privateer Sunred outfit (operating under the SR-Sport banner), which put them firmly on the backfoot against works opposition from Chevrolet and BMW.

Tarquini finished runner-up to Muller following the Frenchman’s switch from SEAT to Chevrolet for the 2010 WTCC and was again the best Leon driver in 2011, albeit only fifth in the standings. He remembers his relationship with Monteiro only grew as their circumstances on track worsened, and the RML-prepared Chevy Cruze proved dominant in Muller’s hands.

“It’s true our relationship improved year-by-year,” Tarquini says. “We had a very good time in SEAT Sport when we were in the manufacturer team. A lot of fantastic drivers there fighting for the title, but especially in the bad moments because after SEAT Sport stopped racing, we needed to survive.

"They were looking for my advice to have a team-mate and my first name was Tiago Monteiro. They were surprised because at this moment they want to come back very strong, they want the best on the market and I suggested Tiago" Gabriele Tarquini

“We went to a private team with not a lot of money, and it was fighting to survive but I never had bad moments outside of the track. We had these bad seasons but were always very strong in our relationship, it was very friendly. This makes our relationship even stronger.”

Tarquini and Monteiro were simultaneously announced as drivers for Honda’s new WTCC programme mid-way through a 2012 campaign they’d begun with different SEAT privateer outfits, marking their first time apart since Monteiro's arrival in tin-tops. By season’s end, Monteiro had begun racing the new S2000 Honda, and they were reunited for 2013 as Honda delivered the manufacturers’ title.

“I introduced Tiago to Honda,” confirms Tarquini. “Before the starting season with Honda, they were looking for my advice to have a team-mate and my first name was Tiago Monteiro. They were surprised because at this moment they want to come back very strong, they want the best on the market and I suggested Tiago because he was fast and we had a very strong relationship.”

However, the duo won only four races in 2013 and could not prevent Muller – now driving an RML Cruze without factory backing – from romping to a fourth WTCC title. And matters didn’t improve when the new TC1 rules arrived for 2014.

Monteiro grew in stature as a tin-top racer even after SEAT's withdrawal as a works team, and Tarquini's respect for him grew

Photo by: James Moy

Monteiro grew in stature as a tin-top racer even after SEAT's withdrawal as a works team, and Tarquini's respect for him grew

Honda could not match newcomer Citroen, as Jose Maria Lopez claimed three titles on the trot prior to the French brand electing to concentrate its attention on rallying for 2017. Tarquini reckons the cause of the deficit lay beneath the bonnet in the engine bay, rather than in the JAS Motorsport-developed Civic WTCC chassis, as the 1.6 litre 4-cylinder turbo-charged HR412-E engine developed in Japan “was not competitive at all”. But he and Monteiro crucially kept a unified front.

“We started fighting to have a better engine, but it was not as good as we were waiting for,” remembers Tarquini. “It was a very bad moment, but again out of the track we always enjoyed and we always pushed together to solve our problems.”

Tarquini was released by Honda at the end of 2015 and spent a year with Lada before teaming up with Hyundai to test its i30 N TCR for a race programme that would yield him the inaugural World Touring Car Cup title in 2018. However, the Tarquini and Monteiro story wasn’t done yet.

The veteran was called up by Honda in 2017 after Monteiro suffered a serious testing accident in Barcelona, curtailing a season he’d been leading at the time of the crash by 12 points over Volvo’s Thed Bjork. The Swede took full advantage to beat Honda’s lead challenger Michelisz to the crown.

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Tarquini rejoined Honda for the Ningbo round and found the car transformed, with the engine now “working very well”, although he and Michelisz were ultimately thrown out of the results for running non-compliant fuel injectors. Replacing Monteiro, who was forced onto the sidelines for over a year, was a duty that Tarquini took seriously.

“Honda called me back because I know the car, I know Tiago, they know that our relationship was very strong,” he says. “This was something also very strong in our relationship. After he had some time to recover, I can support him as well during his recovery, but it was quite long.”

Since Tarquini stepped back from the cockpit, he has held down roles as a driver mentor and spokesperson for Hyundai Motorsport customer racing, as well as serving as BRC Racing’s team manager. He remains in touch with Monteiro even several years after their long spell as team-mates came to an end.

“We speak every week, we chat in WhatsApp, we are in some WhatsApp groups all together and the relationship is still good,” Tarquini says. “He manages a lot of drivers who are very good and very young so he is busy probably more now than when he was just racing!”

Even after several years, Tarquini maintains a strong bond with Monteiro

Photo by: XPB Images

Even after several years, Tarquini maintains a strong bond with Monteiro

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