World Touring Car Championship veteran Gabriele Tarquini will not be racing for the works Castrol Honda squad next year, it has been confirmed.
“We are incredibly grateful for everything Gabriele has given to Honda, both most recently in WTCC and throughout his career,” said Robert Watherston of Honda.
“He’s played a significant role in our touring car efforts over the years, not least in helping develop the current Honda Civic WTCC machine from which the Civic Type R road car is derived.
“For 2016 we have taken the decision to refresh our factory effort with the Castrol Honda WTCC team, which means that whilst we are naturally sad to lose Gabriele, we wave goodbye to him with fondness in our hearts and good memories of a great relationship.
“For the Castrol Honda WTCC team, we will be able to announce more changes and our renewed driver line-up in due course as we reset our sights on next year’s championship.”
A former British and European Touring Car champion, Tarquini went winless over a season for the first time ever in his WTCC career in 2015. He placed fifth overall in the 2015 Drivers’ Championship standings with four podium finishes.
The 53-year-old – the championship’s oldest and longest-serving driver – is almost certain to bow out of the WTCC altogether, with no available factory drives up for grabs.
Honda has, however, indicated that it might utilise his services in another touring car championship in which it competes, with the most likely option being the TCR International Series where its motorsport partner JAS Motorsport fields a number of Honda Civics.
While Tarquini publicly reflected on the “many, many good memories” he had with Honda, he subsequently conceded that his age was an overriding factor in the carmaker’s decision not to renew his contract.
“At first, they asked me if I still wanted to race, but I told them that I was not going to stop, which put them in a bit of difficulty,” he told Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview.
“They want to change the driver line-up, and for them I would be too old; this was the reason that they gave me.
“Of all the Honda drivers, I am the oldest. I disagree with their choice, but I accept that, because my contract is expiring, it is in their power to decide what to do.”
Tarquini hinted that the team is set to confirm incumbent driver Tiago Monteiro and Hungarian driver Norbert Michelisz – who has raced for the past six seasons in the privateer Zengő Motorsport team – in its 2016 factory line-up.
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Images via FIA WTCC Media