Saab 99 Turbo in Targa Tasmania

Right now it’s fair to say that I’m a little bit jealous over elements of Dan Rotman’s life that will unfold over the next few weeks.  I have an old, slightly beaten up 1979 Saab 99 Turbo that I’m trying (however slowly) to do up.  I also live on an island with lovely roads that have speed limits – and police that like to enforce them. 

Dan has a beautiful, red, race-prepared 99 Turbo.  And for a week in late April he’s going to be throwing it around my island, on some of the best driving roads on the planet and with the police standing idly by (although some of them even watch and cheer!) .  Dan is a Saab nut and will be driving his pride and joy in Targa Tasmania, one of the world’s great tarmac rallies.

This will be Dan’s third tilt at Targa, or the second depending on how you look at things. And everyone involved in the team is hoping that the third time will indeed be the charm.

The first Targa attempt came in 2003.  Dan was placed around 3rd in his class when things came to a premature and unfortunate end.  He was heading through the street circuit in Ross, in Tasmania’s midlands, when the top of a crest flew underneath the car and revealed an immediate right that didn’t quite get negotiated as well as it could have been.

I’m sure it’s just coincidence, but it was right next to the town graveyard.  In an instant reaction that he would later question, Dan hit the anchors, got sideways and ended up planting the car at speed into a culvert, making an irreparable  mess of the car’s rear axle in the process.

The second attempt in 2004 had to be aborted due to the car not being prepared as promised by the contracted mechanic, a situation that brings very short sentences and angry undertones – and one that may still be subject to some legal to-ing and fro-ing.

But forget all that for the moment.  The 2005 Targa Tasmania is now upon us and all the planets seem to be coming into alignment.  The car has been prepared by Wantirna Automotive in Melbourne, and by all accounts its running like a Swiss watch.

There were some minor troubles a few weeks ago above 4,500 rpm, leaving the last 2,000 rpm inaccessible.  The mixture was leaning out and the engine misfired.  That issue has been solved and a recent run on the Dyno revealed the car is now throwing out close to 200hp on the dyno @ 5600rpm and 300Nm of torque @ 4200rpm.  Phwoar!! 

To put these numbers in perspective, the power to weight ratio is around 172bhp per tonne.  A Suby Rex gets about 179bhp per tonne and the 9-3 Aero SS gets about 138 bhp per tonne.  Yes, put wings on it and this car may just fly.

Dan’s a long-time Saab owner, having owned 17 different cars over the years from a V4 Saab 96 to various 99’s and 900’s, right through to his current daily driver, a 9000 Aero.  He’s also an experienced rally driver, having competed in Targa as well as other rallies in his native state of Victoria.  When he’s not rallying, he spends his time working in a business development role at Motorcycling Australia and teaching defensive & advanced driving with Australian touring car ace, John Bowe.

The car that Dan will be racing in Targa came into his possession twenty years ago when a penniless Saab owner called the club saying that her baby had broken down; Bridget needs a new gearbox and we cant afford to fix her.  Did he know of anyone who would be prepared to take her to a good home for $200?? 

He told them he’d be right over.  One slave cylinder later he was driving around in a perfectly good 99. (If perfection can include paint that was coming off in sheets from the tomato-soup-coloured bonnet, the driver’s seat collapsed, the hanging roof lining of Babylon and a big dent on the rear quarter panel, then yes, Bridget was perfect. The price however was as close to perfection as one could reasonably expect, and there was virtually no rust.)

Several years and a whole truckload of parts later (courtesy of a rolled 99 Turbo), Bridget has risen from being the second, third or fourth car in the family, to being a rally contender.  Dan baulks at mentioning exact figures, but let’s just say that navigator and two-wheels nut Roger Lawrence could have bought a fairly decent Ferrari for what it’s cost Dan to prepare his car over the last few years.

The car now has an EMS cam, 5 speed gearbox, water injection, twin fans, oversized triple-core cooling, electric water pump, oversized stainless steel valves and a ported and polished head.  Of course, the interior’s been totally rejigged as well with the necessary safety equipment in order to keep both our lads safe and well in event of some unforeseen misadventure.

Other members of the crew for this race include the aforementioned navigator, Roger Lawrence.  Roger was involved in Dan’s 2003 Targa effort, providing some help with wrenching between race days.  This time he’s donning the fireproof suit and testing his nerves sitting inside the car, calling the upcoming track from pace notes.  Nerve shouldn’t be too much of a problem though; he doesn’t just like motorcycles, he used to race them.

The mechanical support crew will comprise a couple of local Tasmanians in Matt Gould and Drew Bedelph.  Matt is the lead Saab mechanic at Motors Saab here in Hobart and has forgotten more about Saabs than I’ll ever know.  Drew is currently the owner of five Saabs, two of which are in show condition (with a third on the way). On the rare occasion his car’s ever in someone else’s hands, he’s the ultimate repairer’s nightmare as he generally knows more about the repair being done than the mechanic doing it.  Both are fantastic, quality men to have on the team, genuinely Saab-mad and chomping on the bit to get going.

Targa is literally just around the corner and I for one am licking my lips at seeing this little red Swede kick some BMW, Nissan and Porsche butt!

Gentlemen, start your engines!!

Tomorrow I’ll be presenting an overview of the race, how it’s structured, where it runs and who Dan’s main competition will be.  I’ll also give you a look into the sort of effort one has to go through to prepare for a race like Targa.

Giddyup!!

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