Is it time for Per Eklund to hand in his keys?

Michael Jordan won six NBA championships in eight years with the Chicago Bulls. If he hadn’t taken a diversion into baseball it might have been eight out of eight – who knows? Air Jordan retired as the king of the sporting world. He’d led the Bulls to the promised Land, watched them falter after his first retirement and then returned to lead them right on back to the pinnacle three more times. Three years after his second retirement, MJ returned once again and played two seasons with the Washington Wizards.

Those two seasons saw some personal records and a couple of highlights. Those two seasons saw the Wizards as the most watched team in the NBA. But those two seasons stopped at 82 games a piece for the Wizards because despite having the best player in the history of basketball on the team, the Wizards never made the playoffs.

As a tougher critic than me once said – “Sometimes a man’s gotta know his limitations”

Per Eklund has contributed a huge amount to Saab over his rallying career and has been a long-term credit to the Saab brand. His racing career started in the early 1970s in a Saab 96 V4 and has continued to today. He’s had moderate success over the years with highs in the Swedish Championship and Pike’s Peak and should well consider himself to have had a successful career.

Perhaps his most consistently successful years were recent ones, with a European Championship in 1999 and several EC second places in subsequent years, combined with Pikes Peak success in 2000 and 2002. If someone tells you the 1st generation Saab 9-3 can’t be made to handle, tell them to think again!

Per is now 61 years old and the 2007 racing season has seen C-Finals, black flags and the occasional progression through to an A-Final for a top 6 finish. He’s currently in 9th place in the European Rallycross championship and finished in 4th place in the Swedish Championship. This follows on from 9th places or thereabouts in recent EC seasons. The Sport Sedan hasn’t been a successful car, or the competition has advanced – take your pick.

If Saab are ever going to get back into any form of racing in a big way, it won’t be for some time. The costs are just too high in modern racing for a small brand. Saab do have a racing department, however. I met the manager while I was in Sweden back in June. Per Eklund receives, by a large margin, the lion’s share of the Saab racing department’s meagre budget.

With results declining and a car that just doesn’t seem to be able to get the job done against the competition, is it time for Per to hand in his keys and perhaps act in a coaching/consulting role for a younger team?

Is there a racing competition elsewhere that’s more suited to Saab’s 9-3 SportSedan than rallycross? Is there a young driver somewhere in Sweden that could benefit from a drive and perhaps create some success and excitement?

I think the coming Saab 9-1 probably represents the best chance for Saab to get back into racing in general, and rallying in particular. By that time, Saab will have had a new 9-5 on the market fr a little while, they’ll have also had the 9-4x creating some interest and hopefully some cash. They may have even had a new generation of the 9-3 on the market. If success follows those releases and Saab can show Gm some growth, then maybe that competition department can grow a bit.

Saab could definitely use a reincarnation of some racing success.

Per’s results haven’t been up to the high standard that I’m sure he’d like in recent times, but he’s still getting involved. This photo was from the recent European Championship finale in the Czech Republic. The Citroen driver was apparently unhurt.

Per Eklund

I don’t want to place a knock on Per at all. Any guy who gets into a race car and drives it in anger has my total respect and Per’s been doing it, and doing it for Saab, for well over thirty years now. His drive at Pikes Peak was a thing of magic.

I’m just wondering if the time has come. It came for the best basketballer in history and whilst few of us can ever aspire to come down from such lofty heights, the fact is that it comes for all of us.

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17 Comments

  1. I kind of agree with your commentary, but also, in Per’s defense, I don’t think the 9-3 is a good fit for rallycross. It’s competing against smaller, more agile cars. I Googled for results once and found that someone was racing an AWD BMW M3 and was lucky to finish in the top 20, a whole lot worse than the Saab. I think the 9-3 is more suited to what JL Racing is doing, but I hope the 9-1 is a killer in rallycross when it arrives.

  2. Agreed Ted. Swede Team Motor are doing OK in tarmac racing, as are JL. Like you say, the 9-3 just seems to be the wrong setup for rallycross. Is it therefore the best way to spend your money?

    Does Per’s 4th place in the Swedish championship get much, if any, attention in Sweden? Do Saab use Per for marketing there at all in the home market?

    Perhaps some Swedes could enlighten us?

  3. The real handicap of 9-3 isn’t the size of the vehicle as the cars have a minimum weight limit (and assuming Per’s 9-3 has been able to reach it).

    The real handicap is that most of the other cars are modified WRC cars with a lot of development work behind them and readily available lightweight/competition parts.

    Its obvious that a private team has limited resources for development work – especially when they have to build most of the parts from scratch. (even though Per’s Saab uses e g WRC Subaru transmission, I think).

    (A BMW M3 is obviously even worse choice for a rallycross car).

    So, if there won’t be a 9-1 or Opel Astra WRC car, that won’t be a big improvement for Per.

    I think his team has done a great job and I certainly don’t wish them to retire – the show must go on !

  4. No Motorsport is “PC” in Sweden so even F1 does not get much attention. We had the Swede Rikard Rydell (as a guest driver) win one of the WTCC races on the Swedish track Anderstorp and that barely made the news.
    Rallycross is even more obscure and in my eyes not worth putting any money into at all.

  5. Mats, rallycross being most obscure applies even better to the rest of Europe (as most of the ‘big’ names in RC have been Swedish for years (well, yes, some Norwegians too).

    But, unfortunately, the stakes in WRC for instance are so much higher that I don’t expect Saab to start with that for the next decade or so.

    So why not support some low-budget private teams just to give us something to read about ?

  6. WRC cars dropped from big saloons to hatches as they just were not nimble enough on the tighter stages so I think a 9-1 would be a bigger benefit than many would think. As for tha age issue, 61 may seem old but believe me it is not. Paul Newman was racing and winning even into hs 80s (He may even still be racing for all I know). There are plenty of people who work at a high level well into “old” age.

    That said if there is a Lewis Hamiltion who can do the job there is no place for sentimentality.

    The other thing I will say is that I drove a rallycar last week end and it is one of the most difficult types of racing there is to learn and excel at and I tip may hat to anyone who can do it well.

  7. With the new 9-5 and 9-4 i 2009 and a new 9-3 coming 2010ish, and the 9-1 not comeing befor around 2011 (told so by a sales rep from the national SAAB importer). I think SAAB has’nt a car that i competive enough for rallycross before the 9-1 comes, I think the 9-3 is a it to big of a car for rallycross. Probably not for Per’s driving style wich is panel and plastic intensive. But it will be a sad day when Per hang up his car keys. Nothing is more fun than see Per muscle his way through a rallycross heat, to win, the only chanse one has to se a SAAb take the checkered flagg. In the past at least…

  8. Pekka (Per Eklund) is still a good driver but should retire when still in good standings. He should join Stig Blomquist and Björn Waldegård and other senior driver in classic rallies such as http://www.midnattssolsrallyt.com an event where their fans from the heydays (like me) can compete with them.
    Swedsih TV4 + is now running and “documentary” of this years rally. Look out for no 27 in a green 96 Monte Carlo V4 Rally http://www.garaget.org/trued

  9. Per Eklund hasnt lost his amazing driving abilities yet and I cannot think of anyone saab should be putting their racing budget behind that would be more worthy of it.

    Having personally been in the car with him earlier in the year I can honestly say I think he is still on top of his driving… maybe we should send him off to pikes peak again? 🙂

  10. If Per ever does stop driving (which he won’t if he’s truly a driver), he should still be involved. IMO he should already be training his prodigy (might I recommend myself? :p ).

    As for the SS. With XWD (does his current setup have this?), it should compete extremely well in the SPEED World Challenge TC class, or GT class with increased power (which the HFV-6 is certainly capable of). The TC class would be better, however, as it wouldn’t be competing with the Caddys that way. B284, 275HP, XWD… IMO a 3 year old could go in and win that race.

  11. riku1100s the stage I did was a circut to allow us to get a feel for corners but rally tracks vary so much. Some countries have big wide roads but here in Ireland we have some very tight twisty stages maybe even a bit narrower than rallycross. What I found was that smaller shorter wheel base cars were much more agile when sliding into corners

  12. It’s always difficult to shoo the superstar. Only in recent years the the advent of the salary cap has forced teams in the US to cut the storied veterans from the team roster. In racing, there are so many variables it’s likely very difficult to can the legend.

    So, Per will drive until he decides to quit.

  13. As a Per Eklund fan I totally don’t agree with you 🙂
    Per ended 3rd in the Swedish championship and 8th in the European championship….

    In the Czech Republic, he could do nothing about this accident with Bermingrud Citroen) He was on the outside and Bermingrud just drove on the front of Eklund:
    http://www.motorsportmad.com/view/22…007-huge-crash
    He was indeed involved in some crashes and black flags this year, but that is rallycross, very close. Also the judges took some weird decicisions.
    If there will be sponsors next year, Eklund will drive.
    Also Andrew Nesbitt (N-IRE) drove 3 races with his old Saab 9-3, and he didn’t made it to any finals. This car is stil very good.

  14. Me thinks Per Eklund is gaining same kind of mythic status Erik Carlsson has. On top of the already long career, the PikesPeak successes are sublime. If he has to stop his racing-career is a matter up to the man himself.

    Saab as a brand never fully took advantage of the PikesPeak successes. Look what audi had done, they named the Q7-prototype after the PikesPeak, well that’s all marketing, but it works (for them).

    Does the saab-green-consciousness restict the use of no-sense-motorsport on marketing level? BMW has no problem with any contradictions of that kind. Look at the recent ‘efficient dynamics’.

    About motorsport itself : why didn’t GM/saab got into for example DTM/BTCC/Belcar-series etc. ? Opel is active on that level and even GM invested directly or indirectly in the ‘european chevrolet-brand-once-known-as-daewoo’ on european circuits…

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