Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente will join LADA Sport Rosneft’s driving line-up alongside Nicky Catsburg for the forthcoming FIA World Touring Car Championship season.
As was rumoured last month, Tarquini will now effectively swap seats with the Honda-bound Rob Huff and continue in the series for a twelfth consecutive season.
The 53-year-old Italian was dubbed ‘too old’ by the Japanese carmaker and told his services were no longer required, ahead of its announcement that it would expand to a three-car team and had signed Huff and Honda privateer Norbert Michelisz alongside the incumbent Tiago Monteiro.
Valente, meanwhile, joins LADA from Campos Racing, with whom he has competed as an Independent Trophy driver for the past three seasons. The French driver has earned a reputation as a fast qualifier and erratic racer, and was involved in a number of incidents with other drivers over the course of 2015.
He and his future teammate Tarquini famously clashed at the season’s visit to China after the pair repeatedly made contact with each other on the opening lap of Race 2. Valente was forced into retirement with a dramatic suspension failure and later confronted Tarquini in a heated exchange in the pits:
It will be interesting to see how the two fare as teammates, although Valente has been at pains to bury the hatchet by subsequently praising the championship-winning exploits of the veteran driver.
They will be garage mates with Dutch driver Catsburg, who was drafted into the LADA squad mid-season following the team’s sacking of James Thompson. Catsburg’s best finishes over his largely impressive campaign were a pair of fourth places.
LADA debuted an all-new race car, the Vesta WTCC, in last year’s championship and spent much of the season in catch-up mode trying to develop the new chassis, which proved fast but extremely fragile.
The team has promised that a raft of “significant updates” will be introduced ahead of the forthcoming season, with the most notable being strengthened suspension components to replace its easily-broken forebears.
Image and video via FIA WTCC Media