Bring back Saab motorsport!

Motorsport.

There’s companies out there who have built their entire reputation on it. I would dare to suggest that every weekend for the last 30 years or so there’s been a race somewhere in the world with an Alfa Romeo in it. Manufacturers like Porsche are able to build, and sell at a huge premium, track versions of their road cars. And how passionate are those Ferrari fans?

Carlsson Saab 96Many of us Saabisti tend to live on the back of motorsports achievements as well. But they’re achievements from many years ago accomplished by cars that bare little, if any, resemblance to the cars Saab produce today. There were a lot of interesting presentations made at the Anniversary Dinner at the Saab Festival, but while people were generally pretty respectful of all presenters with just a bit of mild chit-chat, you could hear a pin drop when Erik Carlsson, Gunnar Palm and Stig Blomqvist took the stage.

People are captivated by racing. The speed, the courage, the danger and in the end, the success that comes with a job well planned and well executed. Saab used to do it well, and I reckon it’s high time they did it again at a more prominent level. Why?

Volvo are outclassing us.

Autoblog Green reported today on Volvo’s entry into the World Touring Car Championship later this month. It’s a one-race-thing only but it’s a serious statement that Volvo are making here.

And it’s not merely a one-off thing. The car they’re running has already had a couple of wins in the Swedish Touring Car Championship, where it’s currently running in second place for the season. Volvo have chosen the Swedish round of the WTCC to enter the Volvo and they won’t be racing for points – which means they’re racing for publicity and credibility.

And the real kicker – they’re racing in an S60 powered by E85.

There’s not a lot of teams running on E85 at present. It’s a tricky fuel to race with. Swede Team Motor have a V6 Saab 9-3 that’s been tuned to run on E85 but only ran it in some test races late last year. The car was too volatile and is still under development and I’d say it’s unlikely to see competition this year. It was hellishly fast when it was out there, but it’s hard to keep out there.

Volvo E85 racingSaab have a motorsport department. Right now in 2007. I met the head of the motorsport section outside the Saab museum on the same day I was fortunate enough to meet Bjorn Envall. Saab motorsport’s primary work is with Per Eklund, with other support lent out to Swede Team Motor and a couple of other teams. They get some local exposure for their money, but with Volvo stepping up to the WTCC plate, even for just one race, it begs the question as to whether it’s time for Saab to get back into it too.

Saab have a refreshed 9-3 with a new, menacing look. There’s a high performance version of that car coming very soon. They have a new 9-5 coming in a few years that according to early reports looks pretty special. One of these vehicles has to suitable for some higher class of motorsport, hasn’t it? It’s a lot further into the future, but what about the compact 9-1 and the WRC?

Saab are leading the General’s efforts in turbocharging, E85 tuning and the implementation of XWD. If GM Europe want to do something that’ll show some real faith in the Saab brand and some appreciation for the value they’re getting from it across their portfolio, then how about investing in the best cradle there is for motoring technology development.

I think it’s time Saab were allowed to find and support another young Swedish talent, another young Carlsson in the making, and provide some aspiration and inpsiration – some thing to cheer for. No disrespect to Per Eklund, it was only five years ago that he won Pikes Peak, but I think it’s fair to say that his major contributions to Saab’s motorsport efforts are most likely behind him. His A-Final finishes this season have mainly been the result of others in front of him crashing out of the race. His last two race meets have seen him black flagged, but even when he’s still in the race his Saab 9-3 is not competitive enough.

I’d love to see Eklund as a team manager, passing on his experience and allowing Saab’s funds to be concentrated on an effort to really make a team competitive. Someone there should be in a position to make the tough call and identify the one team and race series where Saab’s experience and expertise could have the biggest impact. There’s a number of teams out there in various places around the world proving that Saabs can make it on smaller stages. I’d like to see GM back the company up and allow them to prove that they can make it on a bigger stage.

Saab have a history full of over-achievement. No small company starting from scratch should have been able to do the things they’ve done. It’s a proud history. But it’s also one where they’ve been left sitting on their hands a little too often, especially recently.

Again, it’s an investment that’s required, but that’s the only way you grow, isn’t it?

5 Comments

  1. I think one of the reasons Saab is so respected and does so well in the UK goes way back to when they won the RAC 3 times in a row, and the Monte Carlo twice in a row, all in a span of just 4 years. That garnered a lot of respect and praise from the British press; the free advertising and publicity made the investment well worth while. I know the investment today would be magnitudes larger than in 1960-63, but I still think it would yield greater dividends in return. I think a lot of us old Saab faithful are getting tired of talking about Saab’s great past and would like to talk more about Saab’s great present.

  2. Totally agreed, Ted.

    It’s only 5 years since Pikes Peak, but every year it gets to be further and further away, into the past.

    Subaru seem to be the poster company of the week on this site, but look at what they’ve done in motorsport and the following it’s brought to their brand.

  3. This would clearly be a way to market xwd, and give saab some of it’s history back.
    I see Volvo losing the ground on “the drver’s swede” with the R losing it’s balls and only becoming a trim package, while Saab is readying a real performance sedan and wago..errr sportcombi. Add to that (in America at least) that every turbo charged Volvo is no longer available with a manual transmission. c30 being the exception. What messsage does that send? If you want a real swedish car with a manual you have but one choice. I made that choice a couple of months ago (ok, so my saab is used!, at least I have one now :)after coming from 2 volvos.
    DO not underestimate the enthusiast market! Volvo stopped taking it seriously this year, and Saab should reap the benefits.

  4. We knew it would not be long, but Motor Authority just reported:

    Ovlov adds three new flex-fuel models
    Tuesday 10 July 2007

    Ovlov has added new flex-fuel engines to its S40 and V50 lineup as well as to the stylish C30 hatch range. The new motor, displacing 1.8L, pumps out 125hp and runs on blended E85 biofuel.

    Also available are three common-rail diesels with outputs ranging from 109hp up to 180hp and five petrol units with outputs ranging from 100hp up to 230hp, the most powerful engines creating their extra huff with the help of a turbocharger.

    Ovlov’s trademark safety image is strengthened with its latest models also, which now come equipped with new features such as the automatic hazard lights that are activated if the air-bags are deployed and new brake lights that flash if the driver lifts their foot off the gas pedal quickly and applies strong force to the brake.

  5. Credit Per Eklund for not crashing-out of the races himself. That requires some fairly honed skills, I would presume. I don’t know what a “black flag” is (besides the seminal punk band or when it represents anarchy), but that doesn’t sound good though…

    It’s easy for me to say as it’s not my money, but I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments in this post. SAAB should work on showing parent GM that entering into motor sport is a wise investment. The advertising of seeing a SAAB competing on the track is very valuable and raises public awareness of the existence of the brand. I think SAAB would have to show GM justification for the investment which would be required and prove racing isn’t just a “money pit”. It could directly lead to increased sales. GM should know how good NASCAR participation has been for sales in the U.S. (though I’m not advocating a SAAB entry in NASCAR, making left turns in a circle for hours on end. Perish the thought! ;-0).

    I believe that SAAB ended their rally participation in the late 70’s due to financial hardship (which was before GM bought the brand) and AUDI’s domination with their Quattro AWD system. If what I’ve read of XWD is true, this could prove very successful in rally racing.

    However, the 9-3 is too large and not suitable for rally racing. Perhaps the touring car circuit as ovloV is jumping into and JL Racing is doing in Canada. As you mention Swade, the 9-1 would be a very likely candidate for a potential jump into the WRC for SAAB, assuming the 9-1 would have XWD available. Then again, most race cars are custom so I’m sure they could adapt the XWD for a couple of rally cars if necessary. If they can put a 750 bhp 4WD system into a Viggen for Pike’s Peak, they can do anything.

    I look forward to the day when I can come to TrollhattanSAAB and see some sort of scoreboard with SAAB’s various current racing results and points at the top of the page!

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