SPORTING REGISTER at the FIAT NATIONALS – 21st & 22nd March

Every three years the ‘Fiat Nationals’ event returns to Victoria where it is organised and hosted by the Fiat Car Club of Vic. This year’s three-day event was based in Benalla and included a bitumen motorkhana, a concours in the centre of town, circuit sprints at the nearby Winton Raceway and a plethora of social events during the evenings. The ‘Nationals’ draws participants from the various well established Fiat Car Clubs based in most states of the Country, as well as from members of the very active T124 Internet forum which this year was instrumental in enticing a group of Fiat enthusiasts from New Zealand to cross the Tasman and join the festivities using an old Fiat Regatta wagon supplied by a local member of the forum.
Three members of the Sporting Register, who are also members of the FCCV, decided to make the trip to Benalla and participate in this year’s event.
Ian Maud, who currently drives a super-charged Series 1 version of Toyota’s MR2, used to own and compete in Fiats and has maintained his links with the Fiat Car Club. The MR2 is virtually a Japanese take on the earlier Fiat X1/9, so it seemed like a good idea to throw the cat in amongst the pigeons. Logically, the Toyota was ineligible to compete in the concours, or for the prestigious Fiat of Italy Cup in the motorkhana, but a borrowed drive of the Competition Secretary’s X1/9 was arranged so that he could at least have a run. Unfortunately for owner, Gary Spencer, it didn’t take Ian long to get the feel of the X and at the conclusion of the 6 tests he hadn’t only beaten Gary times, he’d also placed 2nd in the class. The following day at the circuit, Ian was back in the Toyota and circulating very quickly whilst trying to tame the car’s peculiar handling characteristics on a combination of two new competition tyres and 2 old ones. With 15 or 16 cars on the track at a time it was tempting to become involved in dices with other cars, but with fast lap times being the aim, Ian found some clear track and managed to finish with the 7th fastest outright lap times.
Mike Whitford has been competing in sprints with his JPS-replica, BMW 635CSI, but this was the first sprint outing for his very pretty Fiat Dino 2.4 Coupe. New competition brake pads were fitted and a fire extinguisher installed, but apart from that the car is unmodified and a very clean example of Fiat’s Ferrari V6-engined classic. Mike didn’t compete in the motorkhana, but on the Saturday afternoon, the Dino placed second in the ‘Coupe’ category at the concours which was held in parkland by the lake in Benalla. Having not driven at Winton before, Mike steadily improved his lap times and had a ball pushing the car to its limits on the track. The Dino was very well-behaved, and performed reliably after being driven to and from the event as well as competing in the sprint.
Reliability was not the strong suit this year for Steve Schmidt’s tarmac-rallified Fiat 124 AC coupe. The motorkhana was a disaster, because despite replacing the brake fluid in the weeks prior to the event, the hydraulic handbrake decided not to fully release pressure on the rear brakes after being applied. Dragging rear brakes are not conducive to quick times around the flags. A quick bleed of the handbrake cylinder mid-way through the tests remedied the problem, but by then it was unfortunately too late to recover any places in the class standings. The concours was thankfully more of a success, with the coupe placing second in the ‘Racing’ category. The coupe always performs well on the track, but this year a massive oil leak from a blown rear axle oil seal curtailed its participation after just one session on the track. Offers of assistance to help replace the seal or even to share a drive in another car were forthcoming from other participants, but it seemed easier to retire gracefully and enjoy the event as a spectator. As luck would have it, the coupe put in some quick laps before the seal let go and ended up winning its class.
The event was an outstanding success thanks to the work put in by the FCCV and all the volunteers who helped out over the weekend. It’ll be another 3 years before the Nationals return to Victoria, so a trip to Queensland or NSW may be on the cards in the future.

Steve Schmidt

Photos by Tony Studans (NSW)

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