FIA World Touring Car Championship points leader Tiago Monteiro has been forced to withdraw from this weekend’s event in China on medical grounds, putting the Honda driver’s chances of claiming a maiden Drivers’ Championship title at serious risk. His seat will be taken by former Honda teammate Gabriele Tarquini.
The Portuguese driver suffered serious injuries in a heavy testing crash at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on September 6 when his Honda Civic WTCC suffered an apparent mechanical failure.
The 41-year-old, who currently holds a narrow 12-point lead in the championship ahead of Polestar Cyan Racing driver Thed Björk, revealed the seriousness of his post-crash injuries included concussion, torn neck muscles and complications from blood clots that affected vertebrae, his eyes and nervous system.
“I was very lucky,” he admitted, while praising the strength and safety features of his car.
“[The] doctors were confident I was very close to permanent damage or even death. In the end those cars are so strong, the car saved my life to be honest with hardly any chassis movement.
“Everything did its job to protect me. All-in-all it could have been much worse. I am here today, I can walk, I can move and in a few of weeks I will be 100 per cent ready to race, [being] with my family at the end of the day is what matters.”
Stepping in for Monteiro this weekend is former WTCC champion and teammate Gabriele Tarquini. The Italian veteran drove with Monteiro during the development of Honda’s TC1-specification WTCC racer; today he acts as Hyundai’s development driver and took the carmaker’s new i30 N TCR to victory on its competitive TCR International Series debut.
“I’m incredibly disappointed that I cannot race in China,” Monteiro added.
“As a team, we’ve worked incredibly hard to make it to the top of the championship and this is a huge setback to everybody. Unfortunately, the human body is what it is, and despite the outstanding efforts of my medical team, I just need more time. My focus now shifts to returning to fitness in time for Motegi later this month and resuming my title challenge there.
“I must say a big thank you to Gabriele for stepping in. He’s a great friend and was a fantastic team-mate for many years in the WTCC, so there’s nobody else I’d rather have in the car to support my title push.”
For Tarquini, his stand-in drive marks a return to the WTCC for the first time since he was forced out of the championship when LADA ended its manufacturer participation at the end of 2016.
“I’m pleased to return to the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team this weekend, although I wish it had been in happier circumstances,” he explained.
“Tiago is a fantastic driver who has rightfully earned his place at the top of the championship and it’s a real shame he has to miss this weekend.
“I’ll do the very best job I can for Tiago and the team this weekend and hope that the combination of my experience of the Civic WTCC from 2014-15 and the levelling factor of a brand-new circuit can help me fight for a strong pair of results.”
Images via FIA WTCC Media and TCR Media