The Inaugural Fiat 500 Abarth Driving Experience was opened up to an interesting mix of invited participants. Each of the five teams consisted of a professional race car driver, a passionate Fiat 500 Facebook fan, a popular automotive website representative and a men’s publishing editor. Throughout the course of the day these five teams would battle each other in the Abarth in four distinct driving challenges taking place on a variety of race courses within the Las Vegas Motor Speedway complex. Each team competed not only for bragging rights, but also to give the Fiat USA Facebook fans that voted for their team by 4/25 a chance to win a similar experience at the next Fiat Driving Experience in Las Vegas. I’m going to give you a spoiler and admit that unfortunately the Zeroto60Times “Team Velocity” ultimately came in a disappointing second place in the competition, but all hope is not lost if you want to have a similar experience. You see, included in the price of the new Fiat 500 Abarth is a segment exclusive “Abarth Driving Experience” organized by pro drivers from the Richard Petty Driving Experience. This experience will include a full day jammed-packed with expert training and intense full–throttle Abarth race track driving. The Abarth Drive for the Fans Driving Experience was not only a ton of fun, but also a fantastic way to for us to discover what the 500 Abarth is truly capable of beyond taking a tame test drive from the local Fiat dealer. Don’t let its looks fool you. Although the Fiat 500 Abarth is undoubtedly a small car, it packs a mean punch and demands your respect after spirited driving on the track. Meet the teams below and read more about the driving challenges at the Fiat 500 Abarth Drive for the Fans event in subsequent posts. You can also access exclusive videos of the experience on the Fiat Facebook Page.
Jonathan Start - Pro Driver (Fiat 500 B-Spec)
Susan Denbow - Autobytel.com
Matt Williams - Heavy.com
Jeff Seelig - Fiat USA Facebook Fan
Kuno Wittmer - Pro Driver(SRT Viper GTS-Rs)
Tommy Johnson - Zeroto60Times.com
Chris Aung-Thwin - AskMen.com
Margaret Bryden - Fiat USA Facebook Fan
Dominik Farnbacher - Pro Driver (SRT Viper GTS-Rs)
Anthony Guerra – Carsxhype.com
Lougè Delcy – DapperLou.com
Tiffany Lee - Fiat USA Facebook Fan
Samuel Hubinette - Pro Driver “The Crazy Swede” (Viper Drifting Champ & Movie Stunt Driver)
Bret Dodson - StartingGrid.org
Eric Yang - GearPatrol.com
David Scott Leggett - Fiat USA Facebook Fan
Maryeve Dufault - Pro Driver(Dodge Challenger NASCAR)
Carlos Roncajolo – Fiat USA Blogger
Sujeet Patel – GuysGab.com
Mark Bittoni – Fiat USA Facebook Fan
The Majority of the Pictures in this Post are Courtesy of Margaret Bryden
The Fiat 500 Abarth Driving Dynamics Challenge was the opening challenge of the day and was designed to measure the improvement of each driver. Drivers were eligible to receive full points if they demonstrated genuine improvement as they progressed through the track. Drivers that failed to show improvement were not awarded points for this challenge. All of the track times during this challenge were recorded via an on-board car scoring system. Since this was the first challenge, I had to get acquainted with both the curvaceous race course layout and properly driving the 500 Abarth. Going into this event I knew little about the Fiat 500 Abarth, nor its racing pedigree. Flash forward an hour to the end of merely this first competition and I had already gained substantial respect for the compact Italian sports coupe. Good things come in small packages would be an appropriate thing to say here. Beyond the Fiat 500 Abarth’s beautiful performance in the Driving Dynamics Challenge, including precise responsive steering inputs, deep reassuring braking, exceptionally stable suspension; the Abarth was no short of a blast to drive. The growl from the exhaust beckons you to press the gas pedal if only to hear it roar. I’ve heard comparisons in the recent past saying that the Fiat 500 Abarth’s exhaust note is reminiscent of its other, more expensive Italian automotive cousins. Since I was coming from driving a Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 and Ferrari 458 Italia less than 2 days prior, I can attest to that claim. Its exhaust essentially sounds like a de-tuned Ferrari 458 from the driver’s seat. The sound element alone is a fairly impressive feat for Fiat considering that it has a mere 1.4L engine, yet can produce such a gorgeous howl.
The Fiat 500 Abarth Autocross Challenge was the second event to take place during the competition and my second favorite event. The quickest lap out of a total number of laps given on the Autocross course was used to rank each participant to one another. Points were awarded on a weighted scale based on the individual standing for each participant. During this challenge you can certainly get a better feel for the 500 Abarth’s unexpectedly quick acceleration (listen for tire burnouts). The Autocross Challenge also better demonstrates the Abarth’s handling ability by means of successfully negotiating tight turns without any noticeable body roll. My respect for the Abarth continued to increases after this challenge was completed. This challenge was the most successful for my team (Team Velocity) as nearly all of our 4 runs each were wins. The passenger is my team leader and world renowned professional SRT Viper driver Kuno Wittmer. Without his guidance on this challenge and others, my performance would have been nothing short of embarrassing.