Despite his recently documented dissatisfaction with the competitiveness of the team – and rumours suggesting he was in line to switch to Ford’s new works entry – former World Touring Car Champion Gabriele Tarquini has re-signed to race with SEAT under a LUKOIL Racing banner for the 2012 season.
The 49-year-old will again pair up with Russian driver Aleksei Dudukalo, for whom Tarquini is working in a mentor role as part of LUKOIL’s push to help Russian drivers graduate into more senior categories.
While Dudukalo wound up earning a pair of ninth-placed finishes in his 2011 rookie season, Tarquini’s was considerably more successful – the Italian took the only win for the SUNRED outfit en route to finishing fifth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
With SEAT marking its ‘works’ return to the sport – having spent the past two seasons letting the privateer SUNRED outfit run its programme – Tarquini and Dudukalo will run the venerable SEAT León chassis with a new powerplant, SEAT’s new 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that will replace the smoky Lehmann-developed unit used in 2011.
These changes in the cars were one of the principal reasons Tarquini elected to remain on board.
“I’m eagerly looking forward to the new season,” he is quoted as saying. “Of course, we will use the same SEAT León cars, but I expect much from the new engine. In general, I think that we will be stronger than the year before, and our positions allow us to compete with Chevrolet.
“I’m very happy because Lukoil confirmed me as one of their drivers, and I’m also proud because they appointed me to raise the next generation of Russia’s racers,” he added.
The team will have its first pre-season test with the new engine in early February.
SUNRED is still to confirm the identities of the drivers who will occupy the three remaining Leóns it is expected to field.
Fredy Barth, Michel Nykjær and Tiago Monteiro all drove full-time for the outfit in 2011, and are yet to be officially confirmed as having re-signed for 2012.
[Images via FIA WTCC Media]