Swedish rallycross racer Per Eklund will return to Colorado to compete in the 2002 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on Saturday, June 29. At the wheel of the most powerful Saab car an all-wheel-drive, 750-hp Saab 9-3 Viggen former open-class winner Eklund will now be competing in the unlimited class during his third race on the mountain.
Norcross, GA--Known as "The Race to the Clouds," the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a unique challenge to man and machine. It's a 12.4-mile course of both pavement and gravel that starts at an elevation of 9,402 feet and ends at 14,110 feet, featuring 156 turns with no guardrails. Former European Rallycross champion Per Eklund captured a win during his first entry in the fabled hill climb, racing to the finish line in an open-class record time in 2000. After suffering a blown tire last year, but still finishing second in his class, Eklund is confident that he has a strong chance at setting a new record on the mountain this year.
For the event, Saab and Eklund have fine-tuned the same race car that tackled the mountain the two previous races. It's the most powerful Saab ever an all-wheel-drive 9-3 Viggen with a Garrett turbocharged Saab 2.0-liter engine that delivers 750 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 545 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,500 rpm. With this amount of power, all-wheel drive and a 6-speed sequential-shift transmission, the 9-3 Viggen's acceleration is in the Formula One class: 0-60 mph in 2.3 seconds. The car is geared for a top speed of 155 mph. The vehicle is constructed on a sturdy tubular frame that gives both high torsional stiffness and good crash protection.
This year marks the 80th running of the second oldest automobile race in the U.S. (after the Indy 500) at Pikes Peak. Speeds on the course can reach in excess of 100 mph on the few short straightaways, although 42 percent of the course is curves, including many first- and second-gear switchbacks.
"In the unlimited class this year, we were allowed to make more modifications to the car's aerodynamics," Eklund said. "We have created more downforce with spoilers and a smoother underside, and that will help me be more aggressive in the corners. In addition, we're using a new, even larger Garrett turbocharger that increases torque by about 5 percent."
Eklund has been competing in rallies, rallycross and other races since the early 1960s, most often behind the wheel of a Saab. Throughout the 1970s, Eklund was one of Saab's most successful factory drivers, and won the 1976 Swedish Rally in a Saab 96. In an impressive rookie performance, he won the open class at Pikes Peak in 2000 with a class-record-setting time of 11:21.38, the second fastest overall time of the day.
Eklund commented, "If the road conditions are good and the surface is smooth, we have a real chance at winning the unlimited class this year, and maybe even setting a new record in the process!"
History of the Race to the Clouds
The first automobile to make it to the top of Colorado's Pikes Peak was a Locomobile Steamer in 1901. It took nine hours to drive, and push, the vehicle to the top. The first race was held in 1916 and the fastest time was 18 minutes, 24 seconds. The current race record is 10 minutes, 4.06 seconds set in 1994 by Pikes Peak veteran racer Rod Millen.
Technical specifications of Per Eklund's Pikes Peak Ecopower Saab 9-3 Viggen
Engine: --Original Saab engine block and cylinder head. Engine tuned by Trollspeed of Trollhättan, Sweden. Longitudinally mounted, four-cylinder, 16-valve with twin overhead camshafts --Garrett turbocharger with intercooler (3.0 bar or 42.8 psi) --Displacement: 2.0 liters --Bore/stroke: 92/77 mm --Compression ratio: 9.0:1 HP Rating 750 HP at 8,000 rpm Peak torque 545 lb.-ft. at 6,500 rpm Transmission: Four-wheel drive with programmable active differentials and six-speed Prodrive gearbox Weight 2,090 lbs 0 - 60 mph 2.3 seconds Top speed 155 mph