Tarquini's Monza triumph

Every once in a while a sport provides a drama that no writer could ever have dreamed of. Something that goes far beyond bizarre and just about defies belief. The European Touring Car Championship finale at Monza can probably claim motorsport's contribution to the absurd for 2003

Tarquini's Monza triumph

The event began as a straight duel between Alfa Romeo and BMW, with Alfa as favourites on the historic Monza track. Gabriele Tarquini was Alfa's main title candidate, but had to take on BMW's Jörg Müller in a championship that had come down to the wire. The two came into Monza level on points - though Tarquini had momentum and home ground advantage on his side.

But on Saturday night it had gone horrifically wrong for the local marque, so much so that Alfa might have been forgiven for suspecting some sort of sabotage. In a matter of seconds the entire team's qualifying session turned from routine clock-beating to the sickening sight of mangled 156s littered around the back of the circuit.

Formula 1's Giancarlo Fisichella had been drafted in to strengthen Alfa numbers, but managed to destroy his car at Ascari on his first out-lap. But the Alfa synchronised crash routine was to get much worse.

The other four Alfas departed the pits shortly afterwards, but only two of them made it back. The team's biggest stars, Nicola Larini and title contender Gabriele Tarquini, also crashed without registering a lap time. Tarquini was in the woods at Lesmo and Larini had joined Fisichella on the Ascari barrier.



The Alfa trio would all start from the back of a large field. Meanwhile, BMW's qualifying had been perfect. Jörg Müller claimed pole, with team-mate Dirk Müller next to him on the front row.

"All I can do is push as hard as possible, and pray a little bit as well," said Tarquini that night.

Tarquini's did well to remember the prayers, because next day he was rewarded with a miraculous championship victory. A first-corner pile-up helped Tarquini upfield to finish fifth, as problems for Müller left him eleventh. And that was how the pair would start race two. Tarquini was very much back in the fight.

Third place in race two was enough for Gabriele and Alfa to seal an amazing and emotional championship win. Müller won the second race, but it is Tarquini who will have the best story this Christmas.

"I can't believe we did it," said Tarquini. "After Saturday I believed everything was lost. It was a stupid mistake. I was hoping and praying that I could do something from the back, but I wasn't too confident."

They say Monza is the spiritual home of Ferrari, but that ETCC weekend showed that there's a little divine inspiration about the place for Alfa Romeo too.

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