Parliamo (Italian) – verb
- To talk, to speak with
- A series in FIAT Backstage in which we sit down, interview, and get to know someone from the world of FIAT, art, music, fashion or design.
While people expect to see racing-tuned Ferraris eating up laps, amateur racing enthusiasts have long “tuned” small, inexpensive models to squeeze out every last drop of performance. This year, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) announced a new B-spec racing class, giving automakers and professional racers the chance to do some tuning of their own.
In April, Michigan-native Jonathan Start drove the FIAT 500 B-spec to the first win of the inaugural Pirelli World Challenge in Utah. Start’s 500, engineered by SRT Motorsports team, bested the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 for a 2.171 second win. While both his car and event were new, Start was no stranger to track life – or to getting the most out of a small car.
Jonathan’s dad, Tom, spent 25 years racing in both amateur and professional competitions. Tom introduced Jonathan to the racing life as a toddler, taking him to the track and introducing him to the people and the cars which bring it to life. It wasn’t long after that Jonathan was racing go-carts – “a good place to start” – which helped him decide that racing was what he wanted to do.
As Tom Start raced in the Neon Charity Challenge, Jonathan was already familiar with what became Chrysler-FIAT racing, and jumped at the opportunity to drive the first FIAT 500 B-spec. Happy to be a part of the FIAT brand’s re-introduction to North American racing, Jonathan hopes his early winning streak continues towards a championship, and inspires more enthusiasts to bring their FIAT 500s with them to the track.
What was it like to grow up in a racing family?
Some friends went to the lake, some friends went camping, and here I am at the race track almost every weekend of the summer. We got to be very close, our family of three, my mom my dad and myself. My dad and I are a lot alike, so that also helped. We were at the track and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The people in the sport are fantastic people and very dedicated to the sport.
What’s your most memorable race?
There have been many, but the top of the charts was that first race in the FIAT. It was my first ever pro race, first time ever racing that car and the inaugural race of the [Pirelli] series. To start dead last and race through the field to finish first – that’s a fantastic day as a driver.
How has the FIAT been received by other drivers?
Going into the year, I had no clue how it would be received, if it would be laughed at even. Drivers come over and look at it and maybe want to laugh at first, but don’t, because of the success we’ve had. They ask how it is and when I tell them it’s a blast and the most fun I’ve ever had, they want to get in it. Every driver I’ve talked to has had interest in getting in it and driving it, even for a couple laps.
What are your goals for FIAT racing?
Of course getting as many wins as we can because the car has the potential, but at the end of every weekend, we’re trying to bring a name to FIAT and to racing, and if we can do that throughout the year, we’re hoping more people will grab onto that and bring their FIAT to the track. For me, over the moon would be multiple, multiple FIATs out racing next year, or even at the end of this year.
How did you enjoy the Abarth Track Experience?
It was an excellent opportunity, to go off to Vegas to hang out with the fans and get them up to speed with the car, and to introduce Abarth fans to the car. It’s a fantastic car, and with a few modifications to the suspension and safety equipment, the car is basically street legal. You can race it on the weekend, put normal street tires on it and have a car for Monday morning – I had a blast driving the car.
So the 500 Abarth’s ready to go from showroom to track?
The car is 100 percent ready. The track day out in Vegas for the fans to experience it, proved it. It’s very fast for what the car is, and I loved being behind the wheel.