NORCROSS, Ga. - When the dust, mud and snow settled at the conclusion of the 1997 Michelin/SCCA PRO Rally series, the Saab rally team drove away with the Group 5 championship, and the coveted Woodner Cup for fastest 2-wheel-drive competitor of the season. The final race, the Maine Forest Winter Rally in Rumford, was the deciding event that clinched the point advantage for the Saab rally team in their 300-hp Saab 900 Turbo Coupe. On surfaces varying from fresh snow to hardpacked snow and ice, Team Saab was able to make a strong start and maintain an early lead after the first two race stages. Driver Sam Bryan and navigator Rob Walden then held their lead by using a more conservative driving strategy to finish first in class without once sliding off the icy roads.
During the season, Bryan and Walden drove the potent turbocharged Saab 900 to a class victory in six of the eight races in which they competed. Finishing ahead of many of the powerful 4-wheel-drive competitors, Team Saab placed fourth overall in the series, earning them the title of fastest 2-wheel-drive competitor and the series' traditional Woodner Cup.
The Woodner Cup, awarded annually since 1989, is named in honor of former rallyist Jon Woodner who was killed in an experimental aircraft accident. After rallying became dominated by 4WD cars in the '80s, Woodner's skillfull driving and capable rally car proved tnat 2WD could still pose a serious competitive threat. Bryan continues to prove that it takes more than 4WD for a strong finish in a rally.
This is the second class championship Bryan and Walden have earned behind the wheel of a Saab, as well as the second Woodner Cup they have won. Bryan, from Kent, Washington, and Walden, from Seattle, have been rallying together since 1995, when they campaigned a naturally aspirated Saab 900 to a 2WD Group 2 championship.
"Saabs are a natural on the rally circuit," Bryan commented. "They are well balanced, solidly built, and the turbo provides the ideal kind of low-end torque needed in a rally for quick acceleration from any speed. We drive our Saab 900 Turbo extremely hard, in all conditions, and this season it has rewarded us with a championship." PRO Rally is flat-out racing against the clock, hurtling down twisty wilderness tracks at speeds averaging between 30 and 90 mph, contending with mud, rocks, loose gravel, snow, ice, water crossings and hairpin turns. Rally stages are held during the day and night, in all kinds of weather.
Sponsored by Saab Cars USA, Inc., the rally-edition Saab 900 features a potent 300-hp 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder. Sporting Saab Monte Carlo Yellow paint and brightly colored graphics, the No. 900 rally car has proven to be a crowd favorite as it thunders by at each rally event.
Saabs have been demonstrating their competitive spirit and tenacious flair for handling rough roads since the Swedish automaker's very beginning. Only a few weeks after Saab's December, 1949, start of production, a 25-hp Saab 92 was entered in Sweden's Tour of Ostergotland winter rally, and the rugged little car promptly won.
In the U.S., Saab's rally heritage dates back to 1956, when three factory-fresh Saab 93s conquered challenging winter weather conditions and harsh terrain of the 1,500-mile Great American Mountain Rally in the Northeast to take the overall win (as well as first, third and fourth place in their class). For many Americans, the resulting Saab news coverage marked their first introduction to the unique Swedish automobiles.
Over the next five decades, Saabs racked up many significant victories on the international rally circuit, piloted by such rally legends as Erik Carlsson and Rolf Mellde.
With the conciusion of the 1997 season, SCCA celebrates 25 years of PRO Rally competition in the U.S. Most of this season's rallies, including the Maine Forest Winter Rally, have been taped for broadcast on ESPN2.