In June 1497, an Italian explorer by the name of Giovanni Caboto landed at Newfoundland in search of new realms. In September 2012, Newfoundland can expect another Italian landing - a FIAT 500 Abarth in search of a Targa Newfoundland trophy.
Inspired by Italy’s Targa Florio, the decade-old Targa Newfoundland is the only rally of its kind in North America. Over five days, teams attempt to cover 1,400 scenic, rugged miles winding through sleepy towns and villages. The route is controlled and designed with safety in mind, but it is still challenging. Of the 67 teams that participated in 2011, only a third finished.
Both weekend warriors and professional drivers are eligible to compete in Targa Newfoundland, in either modified or stock cars of all ages. That means two-time Formula DRIFT champion Samuel Hubinette and his 2012 FIAT 500 Abarth won’t be an unusual sight alongside vintage cruisers, tuner rockets, and purpose-built racers.
That’s part of the fun for motorsports veteran Jen Horsey, who, as Hubinette’s co-driver, will be taking part in her sixth Targa Newfoundland as his navigator, in lay terms.
“The great thing about rallies is you get every kind of car you can imagine,” Horsey said. “I’m sure we’ll be at top speed in the Abarth.”
“The [Abarth’s] performance components make it handle really well, which equals fun to drive,” he said. “I am very excited because rally racing is something I have not done that much. So I will learn a lot of new things, and that is always fun and challenging.”
After guiding SRT CEO Ralph Gilles’ V-10-powered Viper to the podium in 2011, Horsey is also excited for the Next Generation Challenge—a competition-within-a-competition for small, fuel-efficient performance cars.
“G-forces won’t be pressing me back in my seat like in the Viper, but this year it’s about smart driving,” Horsey said. “We’re going stock and showing what you can do with a car anyone can buy.”
In stock form, the Abarth is equipped with a turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir engine rated at 160 hp and 170 lb.-ft. of torque, with a specially tuned suspension, tires, and transmission well-suited to any track.
Abarth’s slick Italian styling should also be a hit with residents and tourists who come out by the thousands to cheer along the Targa route. At the end of each day’s drive, participating cars are parked at local hockey rinks for up-close appreciation. Drivers pose for pictures and sign autographs for fans, who’ve been known to offer breakfast before the next day’s race.
Targa Newfoundland starts on September 10 and runs through September 14. Be sure to check back often during the rally, when we’ll be updating daily with live reports from Jen Horsey and Samuel Hubinette.
Updates from Targa
You can see photos from Team Abarth at Targa on the FIAT USA Facebook Page.9/9/2012:
Day One is a learning day for all teams taking on the grueling test of Targa. When we checked in with Jen and Samuel, they had just finished a day that they were quite proud of. There was a lot to get done and to learn, even for a Targa veteran like Jen Horsey. “Today, we focused on learning the lingo, how we are going to communicate, and building team chemistry.”
In their short time together, it seems like they are both becoming quick studies. “This is a different kind of racing for me,” Hubinette stressed, “but I’ve had some time in the Abarth before, and I was able to take it out on Friday for some testing.”
Looking ahead to tomorrow, both seem eager for the opportunity to race flat out and see how the Abarth stacks up against the rest of the field. Adding to the excitement, is the fact that there will be two new stages, which no team has seen before.
“We’ve had a good, strong start.” These were the words stated over and over by Samuel Hubinette and Jen Horsey at the end of Day Two. The courses for the day were highlighted by the extremes that Targa has become known for. “Some courses were fast and straightaway. Others were full of curves, rough terrain and crests that gave no visibility,” Hubinette noted about his time driving during the day.
Horsey added, “I think that we’ve been surprising people all day. The Abarth provides us with some agility and handling that the other cars don’t have.”
Always the showman, the Abarth seems to have found its match in driver Samuel Hubinette. In the middle of a fast paced race, Horsey held her breath as Hubinette gave some of the crowds that had gathered along the road what they had been waiting for: a wave of his hand out the window while beeping his horn.
Through two days of racing, the Abarth team has been running strong. They haven’t had any of the car troubles that others in the field have experienced, have accrued no penalties and have made their times on each stage. With such a strong start, the biggest obstacle may prove to be the weather. A Category 1 hurricane has a chance to suspend racing on day three, but the team hopes for just some light rain. “I grew up in Sweden,” Hubinette told us, “ so I learned how to drive on wet surfaces.”
Jen added that the size and weight of the Abarth may become an advantage in wet conditions. One thing is for sure, Hubinette, Horsey and the Abarth are all hoping to race.
Waking up to heavy rain and facing one of the most difficult courses of the race so far, Team Abarth approached Day Three with a little trepidation. “It was raining pretty hard when we started the race in the morning and we didn’t know what to expect,” said Samuel Hubinette. What appeared to be an obstacle for the team turned out to be the team’s greatest ally.
“Overall, we had a great day today,” said Jen Horsey. “The rain turned out to be an advantage for us. The Abarth handled well and we were able to race at high speeds despite the rain.” The big and bulky muscle cars were no match for the agile Abarth.
Accustomed to driving in the rain, Samuel took to the course handily. “We found ourselves passing cars for the first time in this race. I’m hoping we get a little more rain tomorrow,” said Hubinette.
“It was fantastic to watch Samuel take the curves,” Jen Horsey said.
Team Abarth picked up new fans along the way. Even in the rain, people came out to watch as the team took on the Gander stage of the course, notorious for its sharp curves. Samuel entertained the crowds by performing car tricks on his second pass through the town. Impressed, the mayor took time to chat with the team during a break.
The team could not have made it through the day’s challenges without its crew. “We have a great team working together,” said Hubinette. “The crew worked really hard through the tough weather and their spirits remained high.”
Tomorrow, the team takes on Leg 3 of the race along the Kittiwake Coast.
Any day that you start out in the overall lead at Targa has the potential to be a great day. This is exactly the position that Samuel Hubinette and Jen Horsey found themselves in as they jumped into the FIAT 500 Abarth for Day Three. As will be the case until the end of competition, the courses that Team Abarth faced were faster and more difficult than the day before. The Abarth has proven to be up to the challenge.
“This is a race that puts 10 years of wear and tear on a car in just one week,” said Horsey, “and we’re at about 5 years at this point. Our crew has basically only had to add fuel, change tires, and clean the windshield.”
Hubinette added, “ We made an adjustment to the car in the beginning, but have ended up changing it back. It says a lot about the type of car that people can drive off the lot and what it can handle.”
When looking forward to the next day, the team said that they will be returning to driving through communities and neighborhoods. During what is considered the signature stretch of the day, the racers will go from highway driving to laneway driving and then end the day driving along the coastline. Hubinette will also get another chance to play it up for the fans as they pass under a bridge that will be packed to the gills with onlookers and well-wishers.
The days are winding down, and the courses are heating up! At the beginning of the day, Team Abarth found themselves in second place overall in the Open Class. Continuing to surprise and frustrate its opposition, the FIAT 500 Abarth held its own on the long, quick straightaways (traveling at speeds of over 110 MPH) and made up time on the winding turns that showcase what this racer can really do. “We’re in a really good spot, and the car has handled everything we’ve thrown at it,” said Horsey.
In a race that normally wears cars down and sees mechanical failures on a daily basis, the team continued to sing the praises of the Abarth. Hubinette called out the important relationship between car and driver. “I’ve spent so much time behind the wheel, that I know how the car is going to react before I make any moves. It has been great to handle and drift around corners. I was able to really push it today,” said Hubinette.
Tomorrow will bring the types of courses where the Abarth can really shine. Twists, turns and agility will be the name of the game, and Team Abarth likes their chances.
9/16/12:Team Abarth placed second overall in the open class division! Congratulations to Samuel Hubinette, Jen Horsey and all that were involved on the team. You can read all about the results here: