Monday, August 27, 2012
Carlo Abarth life's passion was racing. His exhaust and car factories existed solely to fund this calling, and his motto "Go faster than yesterday" expressed his life's philosophy. True to the Abarth heritage, the new Fiat 500 Abarth spent a considerable amount of development time on the race track. Abarth engineers love to race, and it shows. The limits of this car are so high that mere mortals may never be able to fully exploit its capabilities, especially on the street. To give owners of a new Fiat 500 Abarth a glimpse of the full performance of this car, each 500 Abarth comes with a track day driving event called the Abarth Experience.
At the Abarth Experience, owners are able to explore the performance of the 500 Abarth in a safe and controlled race track environment under the watchful eyes of professional high performance driving instructors. One more thing - Fiat supplies the cars!
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Abarth Experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here are some of the highlights:
Abarth Autocross — Beat the clock
The Abarth Autocross is a race against the clock. Drivers need to stay between the cones and put down their fastest time for the team. It's about being precise with your steering and having quick reflexes. Remember to use the brakes! Electronic timing accurate to 1/1,000th of a second determines the winner, but don't hit a cone.
You're given 3 runs. Two runs are back to back so you can get the feel of the car and the course. Your last run is later, after you have had some time to digest and watch what others have done. It's first gear all the way, but that is plenty fast - trust me! The goal is to shave time off of your previous run.
Abarth Head-to-Head Challenge — Faceoff!
This is a blast. It's like your classic street race, but with some twists and turns thrown in! You stage at a dragstrip light tree. Wait for the green light and GO! Race down the 400 ft straight away and then make a dead stop within the marked off stop box. Power on and do a tight autocross like section on your way back. Whoever gets back first wins. Just don't hit cones or miss the stop box.
This was tons of fun to do and to watch. The object of the dragstrip start is to get enough wheel spin to keep the engine in its power band and not bog it down. Some did the - hold redline and dump the clutch trick-, but this doesn't work that well in the Abarth. Long smoky burnouts are my specialty, so my technique was to bring the revs to about 3 grand and then, when the final yellow light turns off, floor the gas and modulate the clutch in. By feathering the clutch, you can keep the engine from bogging and get a decent launch. I got into second gear before I shut down and got hard on the brakes. I let the ABS and the Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD) take care of my stopping, so just mashed the brake pedal down as hard as possible.
I did pretty decently in the competition, tying for third, even after blowing a stop box on a race I would have won. My moment of glory done in by a few inches!
Abarth Driving Dynamics — Road Course
A Fiat 500 Abarth on a road course. This is truly home to the 500 Abarth. Driving the car with a professional racer guiding you, telling you where to brake, turn in, what gear to be in is a tremendous help on an unfamiliar track. You'll get the feel of the track, plus what you can comfortably do in the car. Listen and you will be fine! You are not going to out drive the car - trust me- you'll see when you go for a ride at the end of the day...
We did three sets of 2.5 laps around the Englishtown racetrack. With the car left in third gear, we were able to concentrate on getting the correct line and learning the track. Still, speeds in the 70 - 80 mph range kept things entertaining.
Abarth Performance Drive — Show 'em what you got!
Your last turn at the wheel and now go for it. At your pace, of course. Your instructor is there to let you know if you're in trouble. This is time to enjoy yourself and use the car as hard as you dare for 2.5 laps, without the worries of police, telephone poles and animals running across the road! On the fast part of the track, I hit fourth gear and about 90 mph before I baled out to slow down for the upcoming second gear turn. Lots of fun!
Hot Laps with a Pro Driver — Strap in and hang on!
Gives you the opportunity to see what a skilled professional racing driver can do with the considerable performance of the Fiat 500 Abarth. These guys make you feel like you've been driving with the handbrake on. You will not believe how fast they go!
You will also see how rugged the Abarth is. This deserves particular mention because the cars were pounded mercilessly by both professionals and participants all day long and still performed as new. In fact, this was the eighth day of the program, but you couldn't tell from the cars. Impressive.
The Abarth Experience is something you cannot miss. This program is unique in the Fiat 500 Abarth's market segment and really gives you a taste of what the car is all about. More than just a powerful engine stuffed into a neat car, the Fiat 500 Abarth was born from a legendary racing heritage, and you can tell the engineers who produced the car are true enthusiasts and racers. This passion can be felt when driving the Fiat 500 Abarth at speed on a racetrack and gives you a connection to the great Abarth legacy.
Images: Chrysler Media and author