Per Eklund (64) concentrating on the career of Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen (20).
While Michael Jernberg has completely left the ERC to take part in US Rallycross events and Kenneth Hansen decided to change from his role as “the man to beat” in European Rallycross to concentrate on being the team manager of KHM from now on another Swede, who has been one of the leading actors on the European Rallycross stage for ages, has dropped a bit out of attention of the international media. Per Eklund, the old warhorse who has already been a regular competitor in the first ever ERC series in 1973, has set his focus on being the fatherly mentor and team principal for Finnish youngster Toomas “Topi” Heikkinen rather than looking forward to continue with his own racing career.
The motorsport legend from Värmland in Sweden, who over the past four decades was only missed in the European series of the entire 1980s and has taken part in more than 200 ERC rounds so far, has changed his own ambitions already in 2010. Last year the now 64-year-old started to carve his Finnish find like a piece of timber from a single-seater circuit racer to a Rallycross driver, with the result that Heikkinen eventually claimed the 2010 Finnish Rallycross title and won the final round of the RallyCar US Rallycross Championship in America. However, the target for Eklund was to get his protégé into the ERC. Therefore, over the winter a brand new Saab 9-3 SportSedan was made by Per and his son Per-Anders at their home in Arvika and the first roll-out of the car took place at Strängnäs just a couple of days prior to the Lydden Easter weekend.
“We focus on Heikkinen this year, but I expect to start myself at the fourth round in Norway as well as a week later at Höljes”, explains the still enthusiastic Per Eklund. “‘Topi’ is a talent without equal. During his testing at Strängnäs he set unofficial lap times that were better than those European champion Sverre Isachsen did. The youngster is to be reckoned with,” claims the Rally and Rallycross legend. Eklund points out that his little Saab team has worked around the clock in recent weeks to finalise the new BioPower 9-3 according to the latest regulations. “The car is tiptop, our tests proved that. The road-holding in particular we’ve got exceptionally well done, the thing goes like a kart through all bends,” told the proud Eklund after Strängnäs.
At Lydden the 20-year-old Finn impressed all with his times in the big car. In the first qualifying heat he could have been third fastest behind Sverre Isachsen and Marc Laboulle, but got a three seconds penalty for a jump start on his feet and, thereby, dropped down to 13th place. After finishing the second heats as third fastest to Davy Jeanney and Liam Doran and the third runs as second to Sverre Isachsen the Saab campaigner had qualified for the second row of the A final grid. After the start “Topi” was third, but lost one place when he played his Joker in the second lap. However, it did not take much longer before the Finn was hampered by a flat tyre to drop further down the order and to end the ERC opener after five laps as sixth overall.