The Fiat Abarth team has just completed its final tests in preparation for the KCB Safari Rally which takes place this coming weekend and kicks off in style the 2007 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC). Lead Fiat driver Andrea Navarra carried out a number of test runs in the Grande Punto Abarth S2000 at the Athi River close to Daystar University which is located near to Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. Although the route for this edition of the famous rally is nowhere near as mechanically demanding as it used to be a few years ago, the cars still carry special reinforcements as well as an engine snorkel for negotiating river crossings.

Navarra reported no problems at all with the Grande Punto Abarth S2000 during the test, which allowed the Fiat engineers' to set the car up for the event, prior to its first attempt at the African classic. “I’m looking forward to the start: this is one of the most prestigious rallies in the world,” he said this week. “I’m feeling very confident with the car. Although the rally is bound to be tough, our Punto has already proved its credentials by winning three championships last year.”

The Safari takes place from March 9-11, over some of the most legendary terrain in Africa. While the rally remains as tough as ever, the route has very little to do with the car-breaking stages of the past. To ensure maximum safety, all the stages are now run on closed public roads as opposed to the open public roads that characterised the event in the past.

Two Fiat Grande Punto Abarth S2000s are represented on the strong entry list, for Italian factory drivers Andrea Navarra and Umberto Scandola, who are seeded at no 3 and 4 respectively. For both pilots it will be their first time in East Africa, although Navarra in particular has plenty of rally experience at the highest level he has never competed on this continent. Scandola, who entered the IRC's South African Zulu Rally last year with the Grande Punto Abarth S2000, will be climbing a much steeper learning curve; however the young Italian rally driver has shown plenty of promise for the future.


The Fiat Group has a long and very successful rallying history, here the famous GpB Lancia 037 Rally tackles the FIA WRC Safari Rally.


Andrea Navarra reported no problems at all with the Grande Punto Abarth S2000 during the testing near Narobi (above), which allowed the the Fiat team's engineers to set the car up for the event, prior to its first attempt at the African classic.

The former legendary FIA World Rally Championship event this year becomes the opening event in the IRC, replacing the South African Zulu Rally which kicked off the series last year. As well as being part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, the Safari Rally – based in Kenya – is also the opening round of the African Rally Championship, meaning that the IRC competitors will face a number of accomplished local specialists, as well as several quick foreigners, including Belgian Patrick Emontspool who will start his Subaru Impreza N12 from no 1 due to his ‘A’ seeding from the sport’s governing body, the FIA. Fiat will however be the only factory team on the event as other carmaking brands who plan to turn out in the series this year, expected to include Peugeot, Toyota, Citroën and Skoda, have all elected to skip this event.

Meanwhile Anton Alen, the son of rally legend Markku, has been confirmed as a Fiat factory driver in the IRC this year. The 23 year-old will share Fiat’s second Grande Punto Abarth S2000 with Italian driver Umberto Scandola, contesting half the events on the IRC programme. Alen will also take part in a number of events outside of the IRC using the same car. The Finn narrowly missed out on his maiden victory on the Arctic Rally at the end of January, and is tipped to have all the star quality that characterised the success of his famous father Markku.

There is a long history between the Alen family and Fiat, as Markku drove for the Fiat group for more than fifteen years, using legendary rally cars such as the Fiat 131 Abarth and Lancia Stratos. Anton Alen said: “It is a pleasure for me to continue our family history, and I am really looking forward to driving the car on these fantastic rallies.”

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