1976 Swedish Rally by Per Eklund
What was the main opposition ?
Well, there were three Lancia Stratos. Björn Waldegård was in a proper four-valve car but Simo Lampinen and Per-Inge Walfridsson were in two-valve cars as well. Those cars had quite a wide track and were not so suited to the ruts made by the normal cars.
So it was always going to be a fight between you and Stig Blomqvist?
Stig and I had been driving works Saabs since 1968 and mostly he had done the winning. Now it was the last big rally for the 96 and my chance to do well.
The rally started in Karlstad and then went near your home town of Arvika. Did you know those stages well?
Of course. Even Stig knew them as they were used in lots of small rallies as well as the Swedish, but I guess I knew them pretty well. The first stage was a trotting track at Farjestad where it was no big surprise that Björn was quickest, but I was determined to get an advantage and on the first proper forest stage I took half a minute off the Stratos. He was quickest on the rallycross track at Arvika and then I took another 30sec on the long 50-kilometre stage.
After five stages I was 47sec ahead of Stig. Of course, he wasn’t going to leave it like that and soon we were swapping fastest times like hell. Then the Saab management started to get nervous. Bosse Hellberg was going wild. He was worried that in our own fight we would leave the road and lose the rally. Some journalists started stirring things by suggesting that, after Monte Carlo where Björn had received orders from Lancia to stay behind Munari, Saab would not like to interfere in our fight. That wasn’t true. Hellberg came to me and said I should slow up and I told him I was leading and to say that to Stig first — which he didn’t do.
How was the weather ?
Towards the end of the first leg we had some fresh snow which made things quite tricky even for a Saab 96. There was one long stage where I was starting behind Stig and I gave it 200 per cent to try and catch him. I had a little off, hit some rocks and bounced back on the road. It cost us a few seconds but at half distance there were only 14sec between us. There was no order from Saab to hold position so the second leg started as the first one had finished. And I was the first one to leave the road again, giving Stig the lead. But he didn’t know that we were off and he did the same thing too, so we were back where we wanted to be. Björn and Per-Inge both had offs while Simo bent his Stratos but kept going. I wouldn’t say we became a bit more sensible but perhaps we both took fewer risks. We were still winning the stages. Of the last 15 I won nine. Stig won five and we tied on the last one.
The third car to finish was some 20 minutes behind the 96s. Were there any words later about tactics?
Hell, no ! Saab was delighted with the result. It was a big boost to the launch of the 99 EMS rally programme and a great finish for the old 96. And for me it was a bit of a career boost as it brought my name to the attention of other team managers. — JDFD