Memo to a young, new Saab – please get more into some form of motorsport

A big part of Saab’s storied heritage lies in their success in motorsport.
Back in the day when the sport was perhaps a little more amateurish and gentlemanly, Saab took their little two-stroke cars and fanged them around corners, screaming their little heads off. Saab were probably the first and even more probably the only company to compete the Monte Carlo rally with a station wagon, with Erik Carlsson running a Saab 95 into a high placing in the early 1960s.
The wins and the names that achieved them have been all over these pages since day 1. Mellde, Molander, Moss, Carlsson, Eklund, Blomqvist….from the backroads of Sweden to the glitz of Monte Carlo, the rallycross tracks of Europe to deserts of Africa and Mexico – and of course the dizzy heights of Pikes Peak – Saab competed in all of them and competed well.
Saab’s ability to punch above its weight in motorsport won it a lot of respect and interest from the public back in those early days. Saab piled up wins in early rally competitions but was forced to withdraw when rules changes made the cars uncompetitive. Also, it’s no coincidence that teams started getting more professional and team budgets started to exceed what Saab could afford.
Today, in these difficult times, even some modern companies with proven records of success have had to pull out of professional motorsport due to the prohibitive costs involved. Some of them may be back when times get better, but some will be gone for good.
There is a different way to compete in motorsport, however, and take advantage of some of the associated marketing opportunities that come along.
All around the world there are a number of boutique events that bring with them a lot of local coverage and many of them a lot of local prestige. Many of these are for historical vehicles and some of the are for modern showroom vehicles with minimal modifications – which means lower barriers to entry whilst achieving some great coverage, and having a bucketload of fun.
Here are two examples from Australia….
The Bathurst 12-hour Enduro
The Bathurst 12-hour Enduro is run on Australia’s most prominent circuit – Mount Panorama. The biggest event on the mountain every year is the Bathurst 1000, a V8 Supercar race that happens in October each year.
The 12 Hour Enduro takes place in February and is for production vehicles, which run basically in showroom specification but with obvious mods for safety, etc.
Consequently, the vehicle cost is fairly low and what’s more, Saab are already on the eligibility list with their Saab 9-3 TTiD in Class I – Eco Diesel/Hybrid Under 3.5 litre. There were only two entrants in Class I in 2009. One of them (Holden Astra) failed to finish and the other (Alfa 147) finished last out of the running vehicles. I’m sure there’s room for Saab’s fantastic TTiD to improve on that!
The event is run as part of the Bathurst Motor Festival and it’s big. The 12-hour itself attracted national TV coverage this year and was an entertaining race to watch. As part of the Bathurst Motor Festival it’s one of many events put on to please the crowd. There’s a number of other races as well as trick driving displays.
Saab Performance Team, anyone?
This is just one opportunity somewhere in the world and I’m sure there are others.
Here’s another Australian example, one that’s very close to my heart (and home).
Targa Tasmania.
Targa Tasmania has broadened its horizons in the last few years. After an event with several dangerous crashes, one including some spectators, Targa has had to soften its edges a little.
It still has the ultra-competitive modern class with the latest road rockets setting people’s jaws a-slack, but theres now a rookie class, a touring class and….a showroom class.
Again, these are basically production vehicles showing what they can do on closed roads. The Mitsubishi EVO’s are the most successful in this class, but there are also Mazda’s, Volkswages, Minis and even a Fiat Grande Punto!
A Saab 9-3 Aero XWD might not take out the EVOs in the competition, but I’m sure it’d give a good account of itself.
Given the pace he was able to generate on dirt in a Turbo X last year (with an auto transmission!), I could well imagine XWD pioneer, Peter Johansson, seeing the sights of Tasmania at 200 km/h in a V6 9-3 XWD Aero.
Again, the entry cost isn’t prohibitive (less than $10,000) and the payoff could be quite effective when compared to $10K of TV ads on some obscure channel that nobody watches. Targa Tasmania is one of the premier tarmac rallies in the world with marketing opportunities abounding if you use them properly.
Saab Sweden – do the right thing and put a 9-3 in this picture next year!!
I’m sure there are more examples of botique events that Saab could take advantage of.
Retrospective Motorsport, a small privateer team, won on handicap at the Le Mans Classic event in a two-stroke Saab 93 last year.
Retrospective team manager, Bo Lindman, also heads up Swede Team Motor, who have also had significant success in endurance racing.
Saabs seem to be pretty good at endurance racing, actually. Maybe more of these big enduro one-off events could be targeted for some cost-effective and big-time fun exposure?