In its first season as part of the FIA European Rally Championship, the Abarth Rally Cup lived up to the make’s illustrious history in the sport by producing a final-round title decider on the ultra-challenging Rally Hungary.
Italy’s Andrea Nucita and Dariusz Polónski from Poland went head to head throughout the campaign in identical 124 rally cars, with Nucita coming out on top following a year-long battle that began on Rally Islas Canarias in May.
Neither of them took victory first time out: Alberto Monarribagged the inaugural win, while Nucita had to settle for fourth after mechanical issues on day two of the event, having set the pace early on.
Nucita made amends for this disappointment however by claiming the next two event wins in Latvia and Poland.
His first victory of the season on Rally Liepāja came following an epic fightback, after he went into the second day 20 seconds adrift of his rival. A spin and a brush with a bank for Polónski then enabled Nucita to move into the lead, which he kept until the finish.
Nucita then edged Polónski after a similarly closely-fought event in Poland, which proved to be one of the battles of the year. Nucita closed to within two seconds of Polónski, with the pair taking tenths out of each other: both very much on the limit.
“It was a massive battle with Dariusz, he was so fast on the stages,” remembered Nucita. “I didn’t have more speed, but I don’t know why. It was me that needed checking, not the car!” Whatever he did, it seemed to work for Nucita, who usurped Polónski to come out on top on his rival’s home event.
But Polónski got revenge on the Rally di Roma Capitale in Italy, taking victory in front of Nucita’s home fans after the latter hit trouble on the closing superspecial in Ostia.
Nucita hit back with victory on the penultimate round, Barum Czech Rally Zlín, before a final event showdown in Hungary, during which both suffered dramas. Nucita however, made it to the finish to secure the coveted €30,000 winner’s prize.
It was a truly spectacular first season as part of the ERC. And the Abarth Rally Cup, with the iconic 124 as its centrepiece, has already established itself as an exciting and competitive one-make category.
Also new for the 2019 season was the updated 124 Abarth car, which had done more than 5000 kilometres of testing – courtesy of seven-time ERC event winner Alex Fiorio – with the aim of improving performance and handling, as well as introducing a new gravel kit. But the performance was designed to be accessible, meaning that the 124 is equally suitable for professionals and amateurs.