Jorg Muller drove brilliantly to win the final round of the European Touring Car Championship at Monza for BMW, but after poor fortune in the opening race today (Sunday), he had to give best to Alfa Romeo's Gabriele Tarquini in the title race. They tied on points after 20 rounds, but Tarquini took the title having won one more race than his German rival
The tension ahead of the series finale was palpable, and was fuelled even more when race one winner Roberto Colciago was banished to the back of the grid for his earlier clash with Dirk Muller. For this final race, Tarquini (with a four-point lead over Jorg Muller), would start fourth, Andy Priaulx (BMW) sixth and J Muller back in 12th after his race one puncture.
The action was thick and furious straight away. Putting his title on the line, Tarquini biffed into the back of race one assailant Duncan Huisman's BMW at the first chicane, and the Dutchman cannoned into the hapless Priaulx who, if he had escaped unscathed, would probably have been in a championship-winning position on that opening lap. But the Guernseyman was sent spinning on to the grass, and out of the title equation. Now it was a straight shoot-out between Tarquini and Muller.
Gabriele was up to second by the close of the opening lap, but Muller was also on the move. From 12th on the grid, he sidestepped the first lap mayhem to lie fourth and quickly passed fellow BMW driver Tom Coronel for third.
With Muller in his rear-view mirror, Tarquini pulled a brave and significant pass on early leader Fabrizio Giovanardi (BMW) at the first chicane on lap two. Giovanardi then gave way to Muller, so now the title protagonists were fittingly out front.
Muller tried to pass Tarquini a couple of times on the run to Turn 1, but it was a lunge down the inside of the Ascari chicane that gave him the lead, despite a tap in the tail as he passed his Italian rival. Coronel, meanwhile, had got past Giovanardi and attacked Tarquini, grabbing second position as they crossed the start/finish line on lap five.
Suddenly the championship was tied, but Tarquini had the edge with a 6-4 win tally which Muller could not match even should he win. Giovanardi was now in prime position to attack his old pal Tarquini, the man who replaced him at Alfa this year, but Fabrizio just didn't seem to possess the pace to pass.
There was more drama when Muller locked up at Ascari, causing Coronel to back off as he bounced through the gravel. This allowed Tarquini back up to second, and he attacked Muller for the lead with a brilliant sweeping move going into the Parabolica. Unfortunately for him, this allowed Coronel to get a massive run and he appeared to bump-draft Muller, NASCAR-style, back into a BMW 1-2.
But BMW's title hopes evaporated when Nicola Larini was able to oust Giovanardi from fourth, allowing him to play tail gunner to Tarquini over the closing laps. Muller took the flag 0.2secs ahead of the impressive Coronel, with third enough for Tarquini to take the title on countback of his greater number of wins over Muller.
"I am very 'appy," said Tarquini. "It was right that I was able to play with Jorg for the title like this. I had good luck in the first race today, but I feel I did enough over the season to deserve the championship. It's a good feeling to have the title in my pocket."
Muller said: "I would have loved to be champion, but it's not my time. Gabriele was very fair to race with, unlike some of these guys who shouldn't be allowed in our championship. I look forward to fighting with him again next year."
Two bravehearts were next up, as Priaulx battled back from last to sixth, which secured him third position in the championship over Larini, while returning hero Alex Zanardi achieved his aim of scoring a point with a seventh place finish in his BMW.
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