Raphaël Astier and Frédéric Vauclaire, in an Abarth 124 Rally entered by Team Milano Racing, have won the FIA R-GT World Championship with a rally to spare after claiming a superb class victory in the Czech Republic last weekend on the 48th Barum Czech Rally Zlìn, the fourth event in the series, which is also a round of the FIA European Rally Championship (ERC).
Three wins from the three events they have taken part in – the Tour de Corse, the Rally di Roma Capitale and the Barum Czech Rally Zlìn – have enabled Abarth and the French driver to claim the world title with one rally still remaining to be contested in the R-GT championship, namely the Rallye du Valais, to be held in Switzerland from 18-20 October.
For the 48th edition of the prestigious Barum Czech Rally Zlìn last weekend there would be four Abarth cars in the thick of the action in the R-GT class while the Italian quartet would also have outside opposition as they faced off with the R-GT class entered Porsche 997 GT3 Cup entries of Petr Nesetril/Jiri Cernoch and Miroslav Janota/Bohumil Cernoch. The bumper entry list for this very popular FIA ERC round was 121 cars strong.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though for Astier as he struggled for grip during the early test of the 15-stage/2-leg rally and he also suffered transmission problems with the 124 rally becoming stuck in third gear on SS9.
However, Astier set the pace all rally long amongst the Abarth entries and was the comfortably R-GT leader from SS1 where he set the twenty seventh time overall (out of a total of one hundred and sixteen cars that posted times). He would eventually finish nineteenth overall and also win the two-wheel-drive drive class.
Second in R-GT, as well as twenty second overall, went to and Italian with a Romanian competition licence, Simone Tempestini, who had Romanian Sergiu-Sebastian Itu alongside in a Bernini Rally-entered 124 Rally. This crew also complained of the conditions and they were slowed during the closing stages of the rally with transmission problems, leaking hydraulics hindering them from downshifting.
Third and fourth in R-GT went to the two Porsche entries while the other two Abarth 124 Rally entries retired. Italians Andrea Nucita and Marco Vozzo went off the road in their Bernini Rally-entered machine at the start of the first stage while Czech pair Martin Rada and Jugas Jaroslav crashed out at the end of the first day.
At the finish, Astier was jubilant: "It was a perfect weekend, with the Team Milano Racing Abarth 124 Rally doing everything we could ask of it, especially in the rain on the final section. This means victory in a prestige championship for us, and a well-deserved title for Abarth, too. I'd like to thank my team and Abarth, for giving me a reliable, competitive car."
So, in just its second season in competition, Abarth's “spider” has comfortably won rallying’s “Gran Turismo” title. Abarth drivers in fact occupy the top five positions in the FIA R-GT Cup rankings with one round still remaining, albeit almost all the competition has been between the Scorpion drivers with very few other entries appearing during the year.