Driver Blog: Mike Bonnani – GTA Shift-S3ctor Pro-Am
If you are a horsepower loving speed addicted motorsports junkie such as myself, you probably saw the above photo of a FIAT 500 Abarth ripping around a race track and had to check your calendar to make sure it wasn’t April Fool’s Day. Don’t worry Rip Van Winkle, you didn’t sleep in until April and no, J-Lo is not getting into time attack. This is the HG Motorsports FIAT 500 Abarth; a 200bhp 2,900lb front-wheel drive, egg-shaped people mover. While this may not sound like your typical time attack machine, I think it checks all of the boxes of what I love about time attack. Why do we time attack drivers and teams run up our credit cards and pull all-nighters in the garage just to go out to the track and race against the clock? It’s not for the money, there isn't any. It’s not for the chicks; my own wife won’t even go to Buttonwillow whether Paul Walker is there or not. Is it just for the piece of wood you get if you finish on the podium? If so, I have a bunch of wood I will sell you for a fraction of an entry fee. If not, what is it for? For all of us, and I feel comfortable saying ALL of us, we do it because it’s fun. We do it because it’s a challenge, a skill, a moving target we can continually strive to get better at whether you’re the driver, the engineer, the builder, or all of the above. That’s why when HG Motorsports called me up to drive their FIAT 500 Abarth at the opening round of the Global Time Attack Pro-Am Series by Shift-S3ctor I said yes without hesitation. I didn’t do it because I thought it would be fast, or even competitive I did it because it’s different than anything I am used to driving…and also because it’s funny.
Despite being entered in the entry-level Enthusiast FWD class, the HG Motorsports team loaded up the little meatball and headed to Buttonwillow Raceway without any expectations of getting close to the class track record or even finishing on the podium. Our main goal was to test a handful of prototype HG Motorsports bolt on performance upgrades as well as the rest of the setup. The goal for HGMS is to be able to offer track-tested parts packages to their FIAT customers ranging from mild to wild. Currently the HGMS Abarth is still testing the early phases of product development so the car is still pretty mild. Outside the Abarth is all stock with the exception of a vinyl wrap by Modern Image and a set of OZ Rally 17” wheels. Aero developments will be addressed later down the road.
Seeing photos of this thing just makes you chuckle doesn’t it? Despite being short and narrow, it’s got a pretty tall roofline. One can only assume this is because there is a large niche market for really tall people who want to drive really small cars. Its shape certainly does not appear as streamlined as the two Corvettes in front of it but a narrow wheelbase and relatively closed off front end give it a nearly identical drag coefficient as a C6 ZR1.
One of the first things I noticed when driving this golf ball on wheels is how loose the back end gets under braking. It felt like the rear tires were lifting off the ground and as you can see here, it looks like they almost were! Normally the HGMS Abarth runs on a set of 205/40R17 Toyo R888 tires, but the Enthusiast class rulebook limits tire choices to anything with a 140 UTQG treadwear rating or above so the HGMS Abarth competed on 215/45R17 Toyo R1R street tires which come in right at the minimum UTQG rating. The added width and height of the larger R1R tire ended up causing a bit of tire rub under load through the turns. It was rubbing in a spot which was not damaging anything or cutting the tire so we just dealt with it. The HGMS team will make some minor clearance modifications before the next event. The stock front brakes were ditched in favor of a Brembo GT big brake kit, which features 11.2” 1-piece rotors and 4 piston calipers.
You can see here that there’s a decent amount of body movement and weight transfer as the inside rear tire is lifting off the ground a bit under trail braking entering the Buttonhook section of the track. The HGMS Abarth is fitted with KW Suspension’s entry level Variant 1 coilovers which offer ride height adjustment but compression and rebound are set by KW and non-adjustable. The KW Variant 1 coilovers also re-use the stock top hats which are not camber adjustable up front. The rest of the HGMS Fiat’s suspension is completely stock and features a MacPherson style front end and solid axle rear. The combination of off-the-shelf KW Variant 1 coilovers and otherwise stock suspension is a great setup for the street, but the soft spring rates and damper settings and lack of adjustability made it hard to make big improvements in handling at the track. The only adjustability we had was with the tire pressures and ride height. The next time you see the HGMS Fiat Abarth it will be sporting double adjustable KW Variant 3 coilovers and custom front top hats which will allow us a good range of adjustability with suspension tuning and a proper alignment!