I Got Stung by the Fiat 124 Abarth Rally Car and I Liked It

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The rally car version of Fiat’s two-seater is part regular 124 Spider Abarth, part Alfa Romeo 4C, and 100 percent fun.

Earlier this month, Fiat invited me out to the Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, Texas to drive its 500 and 124 Spider Abarth performance models under the expert guidance of Skip Barber Racing School instructors. It brought plenty of both cars and my colleagues and I spent hours driving them through the cones of an autocross course and around the track. All of us got the 124 Spider a little sideways on the skidpad. (You can read about how the 500 Abarth performed in the first part of my coverage of the event and learn more about the 124 Spider Abarth’s capabilities in part two.)

One 124 Abarth at the event stood out from all of the rest. It had the same basic lines as the other 124s around it, but not much else. It wasn’t even a convertible. Its roof was fixed and covered a roll cage. Metal pins and a massive red scorpion logo hinted at the power underneath the hood. It was a full-on race car: the Fiat Abarth 124 Rally. Abarth vehicle engineer Dan Fry took the time to show me some of its highlights as I shot video for my channel There Will Be Cars, which I’m sharing here on Team Speed.

teamspeed.com Fiat 124 Abarth Rally

According to Fry, the 124 Abarth Rally is an FIA-spec machine available to privateer racers. The Bernini Rally Team has been winning races with it, its most recent victory being the Rallye Sanremo.

Fry popped the hood to give me a look at the turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine underneath. He told me: “The engine itself is very similar to the unit in the Alfa Romeo 4C.” There’s a big difference, though. The 124 Abarth Rally generates a lot more power – 308 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, to be exact. A six-speed sequential gearbox helps put that to the pavement…or gravel.

 

Each time my [driving instructor] pulled back on the giant right shift paddle, the sequential transmission banged off an upshift. It was ruthlessly efficient and had no patience for pretending to be gentle or refined.

 

The interior was a landscape of exposed metal and composites, cables, and plugs. An array of multi-colored buttons covered the panel between the two seats. Fry explained some of them to me. “Selectable traction control, boost level, anti-lag system. This has all the tricks and all the toys.”

Earlier that day, one of Skip Barber’s lead instructors, Jean-Sebastien Sauriol, showed me just what some of those tricks were. We both put on our helmets, then I jumped into the shotgun seat for a couple of hot laps around the 1.7-mile course’s 11 turns. Sauriol is an F2000 racing champion so I was in good hands…and in for a good time. Sauriol launched us down the first straightaway. The grass on both sides of us turned into a blur. No matter how fast Sauriol went, the smell of the 124 Abarth Rally’s leaded race gas still made it to my nose. I felt as if I were riding the world’s fastest lawnmower.

teamspeed.com Fiat 124 Abarth Rally

Each time Sauriol pulled back on the giant right shift paddle, the sequential transmission banged off an upshift. It was ruthlessly efficient and had no patience for pretending to be gentle or refined.

Sauriol made dozens of tiny corrections to the steering wheel to get his line just right, save an inch here, cut a millisecond there. Where he could, he went hard on the power. When he had to, he went just as hard on the brakes. My body slumped forward against my skin-tight racing harness. The more it pressed against me, the wider I smiled.

teamspeed.com Fiat 124 Abarth Rally

Once our blast around the track came to an end, I emerged from the 124 Abarth Rally thrilled and impressed. At the time, I couldn’t quite find the words to describe what I had just experienced. A few hours later, Fry unknowingly did it for me. “It goes. It goes like stink.”

teamspeed.com Fiat 124 Abarth Rally

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Derek Shiekhi's father raised him on cars. As a boy, Derek accompanied his dad as he bought classics such as post-WWII GM trucks and early Ford Mustang convertibles.

After loving cars for years and getting a bachelor's degree in Business Management, Derek decided to get an associate degree in journalism. His networking put him in contact with the editor of the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, who hired him to write freelance about automotive culture and events in Austin, Texas in 2013. One particular story led to him getting a certificate for learning the foundations of road racing.

While watching TV with his parents one fateful evening, he saw a commercial that changed his life. In it, Jeep touted the Wrangler as the Texas Auto Writers Association's "SUV of Texas." Derek knew he had to join the organization if he was going to advance as an automotive writer. He joined the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) in 2014 and was fortunate to meet several nice people who connected him to the representatives of several automakers and the people who could give him access to press vehicles (the first one he ever got the keys to was a Lexus LX 570). He's now a regular at TAWA's two main events: the Texas Auto Roundup in the spring and the Texas Truck Rodeo in the fall.

Over the past several years, Derek has learned how to drive off-road in various four-wheel-drive SUVs (he even camped out for two nights in a Land Rover), and driven around various tracks in hot hatches, muscle cars, and exotics. Several of his pieces, including his article about the 2015 Ford F-150 being crowned TAWA's 2014 "Truck of Texas" and his review of the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider, have won awards in TAWA's annual Excellence in Craft Competition. Last year, his JK Forum profile of Wagonmaster, a business that restores Jeep Wagoneers, won prizes in TAWA’s signature writing contest and its pickup- and SUV-focused Texas Truck Invitational.

In addition to writing for a variety of Internet Brands sites, including JK Forum and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, Derek also contributes to other outlets. He started There Will Be Cars on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube to get even more automotive content out to fellow enthusiasts.

He can be reached at [email protected]

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