ERC Q&A: Luca Napolitano
Ahead of the Abarth Rally Cup supporting the FIA European Rally Championship for the first time in 2019*, Luca Napolitano, Head of EMEA Fiat & Abarth Brands, discusses rising sales, the importance the company places on motorsport and exciting changes to the Abarth 124 rally for the season ahead.
What were Abarth’s 2018 results?
“It was a record year for Abarth, in terms of both sales and racing successes. With almost 24,000 units registered and a growth of 36.5 per cent over the previous year, Abarth set a new all-time sales record, with excellent results in many markets. Such as in the United Kingdom, for example, where it sold more than 5,600 units, representing growth of 27 per cent and breaking its previous sales record. It was also an outstanding year in motorsports: the Abarth 124 rally, in its second racing season, established itself as the dominator of the R-GT class, scoring more than 40 class victories in 12 national championships and winning FIA R-GT Cup. Great results like these mean we will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of Abarth in the coming year with pride.”
Why is racing important for Abarth?
“The history of the brand is rooted in competitions. For all his life, Carlo Abarth had always been attracted by racing and dedicated to the continuous search for brilliant, simple and innovative solutions to increase the performance of the vehicles and cars he could get his hands on. Racing also allows us to put new techniques and technology to the test in the most severe development conditions, for their subsequent transfer to normal production models, with the ultimate goal of making our products more and more efficient and reliable.”
How has the Abarth 124 rally changed this year?
“Our aims in our development work on the Abarth 124 rally were very clear: to improve its performances, simplify its set-up procedures and make it even more reliable. Last year the 124 rally proved it had achieved a very impressive level of reliability: only six retirements for technical reasons out of 52 races. An excellent result. In the development programme, our team of engineers completed over 5,000 kilometres of tests, equivalent to two whole racing seasons, on the most gruelling special stage roads in all weather conditions, collecting data and working alongside highly experienced drivers and testers such as Alex Fiorio. This information was then combined with the data already gathered in the first two racing seasons, enabling us to present a greatly updated 124 rally, thanks to major modifications to the engine, transmission, gearbox and set-up.”
What are the main changes?
“The engine still has the same maximum power level, but we decided to make better use of this power by means of a new torque curve, beefier at low RPM and linear at high. In fact, easier driving means more effective, faster performance. The work on the transmission involved the differential and the Traction Control mapping, to improve driveability and handling, especially in very difficult conditions such as snow or ice combined with low-grip surfaces, situations with which the 124 rally has always dealt very well. The gearbox has also received attention, especially to provide faster gear engagement during up-shifting and smoother engagement during down-shifting. More work was done on the 124’s set-up: when braking, the car gives the driver a more immediate feel, enabling a more gradual action and improving the approach to bends. All specific aspects of the set-up were further developed to achieve an optimal overall result, which every driver can also customise to suit his own driving style and the type of course.”
What will Abarth be offering drivers and teams competing in the 124 rally for the 2019 season?
“We will be supporting our private teams in the European Rally Championship, within which the six-race Abarth Rally Cup 2019 single-make championship will be held. At each of these races, in the service area we will provide our technical staff, the parts service and our hospitality zone, which will become the meeting place for Scorpion drivers and fans. Our aim is to work more and more closely with our drivers and teams, to support them and continue a relationship which has already yielded excellent racing results.”
*Subject to FIA World Motor Sport Council validation