Yann Ehrlacher, the World Touring Car Cup champion and nephew to Yvan Muller, is 25 years old – which means he was born in 1996. By then, Gabriele Tarquini’s Formula 1 ambitions had spluttered out, he’d conquered the booming British Touring Car Championship and was thriving as a seasoned tin-top pro racing for Alfa Romeo in the high-tech but short-lived madcap world of the International Touring Car Championship. The Italian was 34 in ’96, so hardly in the first flush of youth in relative motor sport terms. This season he was still racing, lining up on WTCR grids to take on Ehrlacher, old rival and now friend Muller (himself 52), plus the rest of the rich talent pool the series is cultivating. Most importantly, Tarquini was also still winning. Then in November, ahead of his home race in Adria, he announced his retirement.
He’ll be 60 in March, but looks younger (although the facemask probably helps) and is clearly in fantastic physical shape. We meet at the Hungaroring, a few months before he called time on his career, prior to a WTCR round where he’ll line up among Hyundai’s quartet of new Elantra N TCRs, still expectant after a win last time out in Aragon, his first since 2019. It’s an FIA series, hence the strict Covid protocols. The familiar bright eyes are smiling above the mask and this gentleman racer answers our questions with the easy charm that so endeared him to British fans in 1994, when he arrived on these shores with Alfa Corse and blitzed the BTCC. His English is better now, but that singsong accent remains just as it always was.
Back in the late 1980s, Tarquini was among the most promising of a pool of rising talent himself, as a golden generation of fresh Italian drivers pushed through: Caffi, Capelli, Nannini, Morbidelli, Montermini, Naspetti, Larini, Zanardi… Some, including Ivan Capelli, Nicola Larini and Gianni Morbidelli, started grands prix for Ferrari, but only one scored an F1 victory – Alessandro Nannini, before the chain-smoking Benetton driver’s top-flight career was severed (along with his right forearm) in a helicopter crash.