*Portuguese completes return from serious injury with emotional Vila Real victory *Monteiro: “We never accepted the criticisms of our capabilities after tough period” *Honda-powered KCMG driver has the taste for more success in WTCR
Tiago Monteiro was on course to win the FIA World Touring Car Championship in 2017 when a high-speed testing crash in Barcelona on 6 September of that year left him with serious head and neck injuries and the very real possibility that he wouldn’t be able to drive again.
He spent four weeks in intensive care in Spain before his transfer home to Portugal. “They were very worried about swelling in my cervical vertebrae, whether I needed surgery,” Monteiro recalls. “When I got home, I couldn't move, I was like a ghost, with very big headaches and very big pains. My eyes were crossed, I couldn’t see; couldn’t watch television, couldn’t read, couldn’t do anything.The probability of coming back was very small. The first thing was to have a normal life.”
Determined to race again, Monteiro underwent a gruelling recovery period, including several visits to the USA for specialist treatment.
“After I was able to get out of the house, I started the treatment process,” he explains.“Iused a hyperbaric chamber, which I spent 60 hours in; two hours a day breathing pure oxygen to regenerate cells. I did oxygen therapy, ozone therapy – in which they take your blood away, mix it with the ozone and put it back in you – I did lots of osteopathy, chiropractor, physio, initially just hardly moving. After a while, when I was able to move a bit more, I started my training in physiotherapy in the water, a swimming pool with special instruments and gym tools.
“We did some botox injections inside my eyes because my sixth nerve, the outside nerve that opens your eye, had been stretched in the impact. By giving botox injections inside the internal part of the eye, you are putting anaesthesia on that part which will relax that nerve and will help it recover. I did that four times. It wasn't a very nice injection, but it had to be done.
“Then I went to a specialist in San Diego and spent eight hours a day on a drip. It was a mix of lots of vitamins, amino acids and things they use for very big head traumas and injuries.
“It [was] a small miracle that I recovered my vision. The head trauma that I had was much bigger than we initially thought. Therefore, everybody recommended a minimum of 11 to 12 months of no impacts, so we could not risk racing [for a long time].”
But on 27 October 2018, exactly 415 days after his crash and with his fellow drivers forming a guard of honour in the Suzuka pitlane, Monteiro drove out onto the track to begin Free Practice 1 at WTCR JVCKENWOOD Race of Japan. Although a points finish would ultimately elude him, he was competitive from the outset in his Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda Civic Type R TCR.
The full-time comeback
Having proven his fitness – and competitiveness – Monteiro’s full-time return to racing was confirmed for the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO. And he was back on a high, with sixth place on the opening weekend in Morocco in April when he also made it through to the top-five qualifying shootout for the DHL Pole Position.
The tough times
Following the euphoria of the Morocco weekend, Monteiro, now 42, admits it was a case of coming “down to earth” for the events in Hungary and Slovakia in particular, where he and his Honda-powered KCMG team struggled for form. “Fighting like crazy but nothing comes your way and you are struggling at the back of the grid is frustrating. If are not perfect with yourself or with your car you’re going to be at the back. But it’s hard to accept and hard to cope with.Even when you are in perfect shape and been racing non-stop, this is the toughest grid we’ve seen for a long time. And this is the first year I’ve driven in WTCR. Most of the guys have had one season before. Maybe we were a little bit thrown by the good performance in Marrakech. But then we came down to earth for the next races. However, even when it was tough and we had so many hard times, we kept working and fighting. We tried to keep our spirits high because we knew this [win] was going to happen, but the timing was just perfect.”
After being caught up in an accidental collision with Gabriele Tarquini in Race 1, the signs were somewhat ominous in Vila Real. Monteiro therefore entered the final day of the WTCR Race of Portugal weekend merely dreaming of the impossible rather than considering a win to be a realistic possibility. But in a complete reversal of fortune, Monteiro and KCMG team-mate Attila Tassi were the drivers to watch in Second Qualifying with Monteiro just missing out on the DHL Pole Position to his younger colleague in a hugely tense and dramatic session.
Then after finishing Race 2 in P10, Monteiro capitalised on the technical glitch that hit Tassi’s Honda early in Race 3 to take a lead he wouldn’t lose, roared and clapped all the way to the flag by the thousands of Portuguese fans.
“It’s been emotional,” said Monteiro, who arrived in Vila Real boosted by his class victory in the ADAC TOTAL 24h-Rennen on the Nürburgring Nordschleife two weeks previously. “The pressure, the demand from the fans, from everybody, from myself as well because I was putting a lot of pressure on myself… I wanted to do something good, but you never know what is possible.
“If you look back a few months we’ve been going through hell, the last few races have been so hard that a lot of people have been starting to question our capacities for doing the job, and even questioning my capacities. Internally we never really accepted those criticisms and we kept fighting and working.
“Then if you look even further back to the accident and all the long recovery, the treatment and the operations and stuff it looks almost like a movie with the perfect script and the perfect ending, Hollywood style. I’m just over the moon. It’s such an important chapter in my life. I went through hell and now I’m coming back to heaven really and enjoying every moment that I can.”
With a first FIA World Touring Car win since Hungary in 2017 secured, it’s only natural that Monteiro wants the success to continue. “This refuels the ignition,” he says. “If I wanted to give up, I would have done it already. I’ve had so many opportunities to stop and focus on other things, but I love racing so much. This ignites even more my will, my motivation, my everything. I want more, I really want more. This is fantastic, this is great, but I really want more. But I am realistic. I know it’s not going to be like this every time but at least I could prove to everybody that KCMG and Honda can do it, we can do it, but we want more.”
“One of the most amazing things the accident taught me is to know myself better, to know my strengths and my weakness and to use them. To look at the world in a little bit of a different way, taking advantage of all the small things we take for granted and how lucky we are to be doing this amazing job. Yes, it’s tough, yes, it’s frustrating but we are living an amazing dream. I am so grateful for being alive, being in one piece, being able to come back but being able to come back at a good level, wow!
“I do have a break now, but we have a lot to analyse. Even though we have a two-and-half-month break [before the Asia races] we’re going to test, we’re going to analyse what went good in Vila Real, what we did differently and how. We still have four race weekends to go [this season] and we want to take advantage of that.”
The season-deciding WTCR / OSCARO races:
Rounds 19-21: WTCR Race of China, Ningbo (13-15 September)
Rounds 22-24: WTCR Race of Japan, Suzuka (25-27 October)
Rounds 25-27: WTCR Race of Macau, Circuito da Guia (14-17 November)
Rounds 28-30: WTCR Race of Malaysia, Sepang (12-15 Decembe