The Trofeo Abarth Europe has already made quite a name for itself, and is one of the most successful single-make racing formula’s ever. Needless to say, a Benelux version of this Trofeo was only a matter of time. Last week, on April 5, it was presented to the press and public, and we were invited by the dynamic Fiat PR-people and Neri Competition, to see and drive the Trofeo cars on the Zolder circuit, and get to know more the Trofeo Abarth Benelux programme…What a beautiful and interesting circuit outing it was!
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Getting the 500 "Assetto Corse" ready for your servant to experience a few very fast laps on the Zolder circuit, a beautiful intro to the launch of the Abarth Trofeo Benelux!
An initiative by Neri Automotive…
Indeed, Neri Competition, the sports/racing department of Neri Automotive, an agent of the Abarth Marque for Autopolis in Liege, took the initiative to launch a Benelux version of the already famous Abarth Trofeo Europe racing formula. It should also be known that Neri Automotive distributes Abarth Racing parts and spares for Western Europe.
“Our first goal is that pilots can participate and test their driving talents fully at a (very) moderate cost”, Thomas Neri pointed out at the press conference in Zolder. (See photo above) “Thanks to a well balanced and varied calendar they can build up gradually their driving skills whilst discovering new and challenging racetracks and circuits”, Thomas commented further.
… six circuits to discover…
After the official presentation on April 5 in Zolder, the actual championship will start in Dyon, together with the Belgian Racing Car Championship (BRCC). Then it is off to the legendary Nürburgring and Zandvoort, where the whole European Abarth racing field will be present, as these races also are part of the European Trofeo programme.
Michelin racing tyres are standard for all the drivers in the series...
Consequently, the Benelux Trofeo will be driven on the circuits of Colmar-Berg and Spa-Francorchamps, and the closing race will be held in Zolder.
The programme offers the drivers the chance to measure themselves against each other on Europe’s most legendary circuits, without however resorting to long and expensive travels.
Abarth 500 Assetto Corse will be the car…
The cockpit of the 500 Abarth Assetto Corse: businesslike, efficient and "pur sang"...
To reduce costs, it was decided to choose the 500 version, rather than the Abarth 595, but let it be said that the “Cinquecento” is a marvellous racing car to test your talents. The “Assetto Corse” has the well known 1400 cc turbo engine, developing a good 190 HP, a 6 speed manual gearbox and racing brakes. The cars are shod with Michelin 205-50-17 tyres, and the cars can be individually adjusted in their suspension/camber/caster settings, and the brake force repartition.
The pilot has a few essential extra knobs on the otherwise very much standard dashboard...
The cars have racing brakes, and I witnessed their awesome stopping power sitting next to professional racing driver Nico Verdonck in a few fast laps around the Zolder circuit, racing on slicks, and all this despite cold tires and outside temperatures which were only a few degrees above zero.
Your servant was also more than astonished about the performance and pulling power of the little “bolide”, which puts barely 970 kgs on the scales.
Professional Nico Verdonck got us acquainted with the car's behaviour on cold racing tyres on the Zolder circuit
Sprint racing galore…
The Trofeo Abarth Benelux is mostly about sprint racing. All meetings have the same basic schedule: starting with 20 minute sessions of free training, two qualifying rounds of 25 minutes and then two races of 25 minutes + one lap. At the end of the race weekend, the best 3 drivers are rewarded with premiums. The final winner of the Benelux Trofeo will go home with a road version of the 500 Abarth, but the drivers on the next winner positions will also receive attractive rewards.
Note also that the Luxemburg drivers who participate in the Benelux Trofeo will need an international C track licence.
At the presentation, we had a long talk with Thomas Neri about their supporting role in the programme. The participants can choose between renting or buying the car, or just take part in one race only. Neri “Competizione” offers of course all technical support and also takes care of logistics, catering, etc.
Your servant posing with Thomas Neri in front of our "bolide", ready for a few very fast laps on the circuit...
Prices are quite moderate to say the least. Participating for one meeting sets you back about 1500 Euros, participating in the 5 race programme costs 7000 Euros. Of course you can also purchase the car. We heard prices around 34.000 Euros, which is also quite accessible.
The cost of racing is further reduced by the use of maximum 10 Michelin (racing) tyres per car. What’s more, not less than 6 tyres have to used again in the next race.
The number of cars participating in the Benelux Trofeo is at the time of writing limited to 12 cars, but their number can be raised subsequently to 15.
Last but not least we give here an overview of the calendar: 11 and 12 May, Dyon. The race here is held together with the participants of the Trofeo Europe.
On June 1 and 2 the races will be held at the Nürburgring, also together with the Trofeo Europe programme.
On 15 and 16 June the rendez-vous is at the scenic track of Zandvoort, and on the 21st and 22nd of July in Colmar-Berg.
Mythic Spa-Francorchamps will be the venue on 7 and 8 September, and the final race will be held on October 12 and 13 in Zolder.
A few Zolder laps at racing speed in the 500 Assetto Corse…
Starting off for a few very fast laps...
To get quickly familiar with a car and a circuit, nothing beats a few reconnaissance laps at the side of a professional racing driver, and this is exactly what we did.
Armed with our compact but powerful Fujfilm X-10, which is just the right compact camera for the occasion, we took place in the passenger seat of the 500 "Assetto Corse" driven by Nico Verdonck.
Immediately we stormed towards the first bend, carefully feathering the car in this first curve, soon finding the right balance, with lots of “finesse” or “Fingerspitzengefühl”, as the rear tyres were still (very) cold, and were indeed difficult to warm up.
Coming out of the fast right hander on the back straight towards the chicane: look at the speedo needle well over 150 km/h... (press "ctrl + "to enlarge the image)
A young unexperienced “rookie” in front of us, one of our younger colleagues in fact, found this out for himself all too clearly, and was pirouetting already, soon to be passed by us with no further harm. Soon we were accelerating out of the fast right hander and storming on the back straight towards the chicane, going full song in fifth gear.
Your head is well tucked in and supported by the very effective racing seats of the 500 Assetto Corse...
There I was astonished by the enormous stopping power of the racing slicks, albeit cold, as we said… The next laps, the pace was still raised further, going really “flat out” on the third lap. It is pure bliss to sit next to a professional, who demonstrates masterfully the racing potential of this “pur sang” bolide, truly an unforgettable experience, of which the photos I took bravely can only tell half the story of course…
Having had the chance to drive personally the 500 Assetto Corse on the Zolder circuit, after a few "masterclass" laps by professional Nico Verdonck, we could not imagine a nicer introduction to the Trofeo Benelux, which will bring some very interesting and spectacular racing to you this season. Don’t miss it!
Hans Knol ten Bensel