Fiat has been spied testing a Fiat Punto Sport at Sydney's Eastern Creek raceway leading to speculation that the newly launched diesel hot hatch is about to make its motorsport debut in Australia or New Zealand.
"Yes, our Australian colleagues have been testing the Punto with a view to participation in Motorsport in Australia and New Zealand," confirms Lawrie Malatios, General Manager for Fiat Cars in New Zealand. "But it is very much in the early stages and we have not firmed up exactly in which motor sport arena we will compete."
The Fiat Punto, which arrived in New Zealand earlier this year before it heralded the return to Australia of the Fiat brand, has got its motorsport career off to a stunning start in Europe with the Fiat Punto S2000 rally car taking both the European and Italian Rally Championship titles.
"The Fiat Punto S2000 rally car is an outstanding car, but it has little in it that could be used in a Punto on a New Zealand or Australian racetrack," explains Mr Malatios. "It has been built around the new Super 2000 rally rules, so it is a turbo 2.0 litre with four wheel drive. Not exactly what we sell in New Zealand! We would like to promote the performance offered by our diesel range so we are looking at a showroom category in which the Punto Sport, with its 1.9 turbo diesel engine, can compete. Initial testing has shown that it has the performance and the chassis to mount a strong campaign and we have started talking to teams who are interested in running the Punto in 2007."
Fiat cannot confirm which teams to whom it is talking, but the company is confident that in 2007 it will be back on New Zealand or Australian race tracks.
Fiats were a regular sight on New Zealand and Australian racetracks in the 1960s, 70s and 80s with cars ranging from the diminutive Fiat 500 challenging the Mini, through to larger Fiats such as the Fiat 124, 128 and 128 Coupé in a wide range of events, including Bathurst, and at most race tracks across Australia and New Zealand.