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Interview: Rallycross Legend Eklund Makes GRC His Next Challenge

Image via Scott-Eklund Racing PR

“This is a contact sport,” Scott-Eklund Racing technical director Per Eklund says of rallycross. “It’s very, very important to have a good suspension and a strong car.”

He would know. Eklund is one of the most accomplished rallycross drivers of all time, having taken his first win in the discipline in 1971. He won the 1999 FIA European Rallycross Championship, as well as five Swedish titles. He’s also been competitive in stage rally, winning Rally Sweden in 1976. American fans may know him best for two victories at Pikes Peak, setting an Open class record in 2000 and scoring the Unlimited class victory by 34 seconds in 2002.

Eklund, who has devoted most of his time to rallycross since the mid-1990s, came to America on a full-time basis for the first time this year, joining the Global Rallycross Championship with driver Andy Scott. It’s not his first experience as a team principal in America, however.

“We did some races two years ago, three races I think, and all of them were in New Jersey,” Eklund recalls. “And we went to the final there, and Toomas Heikkinen won the race. Everybody was there – (Travis) Pastrana, (Liam) Doran, (Sverre) Isachsen – and he won this race in this car.

“The car that Andy Scott has, I built last year for Toomas Heikkinen. I built it for him in the European championship last year. And he was fast there. This is the car we built for him last year. It’s more or less the same setup.

“The idea was to bring Heikkinen (to the GRC). He asked me to bring him over. I was fully going to do it, but in the end, he had a connection with Ford. Then Andy Scott asked me to do it, so we went with Andy.”

So far, the partnership has paid off. The team added a second car for Samuel Hubinette at Charlotte, and both drivers scored top five finishes in the final.

“In Charlotte, Hubinette had never driven the car, he stepped in and was quick immediately. In the (second heat), he was strong in that, on the second to last lap, I think it was the Hyundai, he beat him in the corner. He was in a good position there. He beat him to the finish line and Scott was fourth.

Image via Scott-Eklund Racing PR

“Scott’s car, we had problems with – he was very fast in the first practice we did, on Tuesday in Charlotte. Everybody wasn’t there, but Scott was quickest immediately. But this was the first time he (raced) the Saab – he drove the Ford in Europe. It was his first race for it. We’re very happy to be in fourth and fifth in the first race.”

Though Scott-Eklund Racing is not an official Saab works team, partially because of Saab’s state of receivership, they do have the support of another major privateer team: Champion Racing, best known for its successes with Audi in the American Le Mans Series.

“We’re very lucky to be in Miami with Champion Racing,” Eklund says. “We use the workshop they had for American Le Mans racing. So we have everything that Champion Racing has.

“We were very lucky to find this place, and they’ve been so good to us. I can use everything, we have the key for the whole building. This is just like a brand new workshop, everything is 100%. We have a very good base, it’s easy to work. (Champion) have won everything in American Le Mans, and they did it out of this workshop. And the people are still here, because they are the biggest Porsche dealer in the world. It’s perfect for us to have this shop.”

Scott-Eklund Racing’s goal is to continue running two cars for the balance of the season, but so far a long-term deal is not in place for Hubinette.

Image via Scott-Eklund Racing PR

“(Samuel did) the first race, and we’d like to do the full season. I hope Hubinette will do more races, he was a very, very good driver and I was very impressed with him. His first time, he was so quick. And he loved the car, so that was no problem. We just have to find the money for it. He had sponsorship from the oil company (Eneos).

“We’ll see what happens. I hope he can do more races. And in case he can’t, we need to find somebody else. We have a full setup for two cars, all spare parts and transmissions and everything.”

With the right people in place and a strong shop, Eklund knows that his team can continue to score good finishes. But with such a deep field, he warns, “Nothing is easy.”

“You have so many great teams,” Eklund admits. “You take the Ford team with Marcus Gronholm, and he’s the best driver in the world, really. He’s finished so many World Championships in rally, and he’s done quite a lot of rallycross. He’s a very, very difficult driver (to beat). Then you have Tanner Foust, and Brian Deegan who won X Games last year.

“Then the other teams have good drivers. You have Isachsen, the European champion of the past three years, he drives for the Subaru three car team. And the whole time he was very quick. So it’s not easy. It’s very tough to go into the final.”

Image via Scott-Eklund Racing PR

The deep field, combined with the constant action, has Eklund very confident about the long-term prospects of Global Rallycross. “It’s a very good complement to NASCAR and IndyCar,” he says, “(because) it’s very easy for television to show it.”

“After this season it’s going to be much bigger here. I’m 100% sure. The good thing with rallycross is you start, and you do your 5, 6 laps. Then, you go in, the next heat starts immediately. There’s action the whole time. In the final there are 10 completely crazy people. Nobody brakes for nothing. And this is what the people like. I mean, we have over 600 horsepower, we have four wheel drive, they’re flying everywhere.

“I am 100% sure it’ll be bigger. When I was rallying in America, up in Tacoma, nobody knew nothing about rally. (But X Games) was very popular last year. I was in the middle of it.

“It’s going to be very, very big here in the States. It was really nice to see (the crowd at Charlotte.) I think this sport has a future.”

– Chris Leone

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  1. […] support from Saab (read an interview with technical director Per Eklund on the team’s makeup here), Scott-Eklund may be one of the strongest teams in the series with owner-driver Andy Scott (read […]

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